“I believe in the efficacy of supportive relationships built from a foundation of shared-lived experiences, and that is why I founded Living Proof Mentoring.”
I can still remember my first day of school in Vermont when I walked into the classroom and saw that no one looked like me.
I was 10 years old when my family moved from a large city in Connecticut to the small town of White River Junction, in the Upper Valley region of Vermont. It was not long after the move that my crash course in racism began. I faced physical and verbal assault from children and adults in my neighborhood regularly.
While I did manage to start friendships with some of the other kids who lived in the same apartment complex as my family did, there were several occasions when children told me that their parents had forbidden them from playing with me because I was Black.
Overtime I learned how to adapt to my surroundings and the profound isolation therein. I learned a lot of things during my formative in Vermont.
I learned that if I kept my hair trimmed low people wouldn’t feel compelled to reach out and touch it without my consent to do so.
I learned that if I hit someone for calling me a racial slur that I, not they, would receive consequences.
I learned that it was easier, and sometimes safer, to not call people out for their racist “jokes”.
I learned that even when I did try to process my experiences with my friends, counselors, or family that I would be met with sympathy (as opposed to empathy), or worse- I would be instructed to “be the bigger person” and to ignore the ignorance and senseless hatred.
And eventually I learned to stop sharing my experiences, to assimilate, keep my head down, and drown out the pain with alcohol and other drugs.
In August of 2017 a young Black boy in a nearby New Hampshire city was nearly killed in a racist assault by a white child in his neighborhood. It had been 20 years since I first dealt with similar experiences and was left wondering what, if anything, had changed for Black children during that time.
Consistently ranking as two of the least racially diverse states in the nation, Vermont and New Hampshire remain void of organized peer-to-peer support programs or formal initiatives dedicated to Black youth.
I believe in the efficacy of supportive relationships built from a foundation of shared-lived experiences, and that is why I founded Living Proof Mentoring. LPM offers Black youths all of the positive impacts that mentorship provides, in addition to creating spaces for Black children to grow, create, learn, play, explore, teach, and share with other Black children, adults, and families.
Growing up and discovering who we are and where our place is in the world is challenging enough. No one should have to experience it in isolation, and that’s why the mission of LPM is to support Black youth & their families through advocacy, community building, and mentorship.
Our mentors provide kids with living proof that, despite the ruralized isolation they might feel, they are not alone. They provide proof that as Black people, we are not restricted to fulfilling any particular role or limited aspects of our identities, stereotypical or otherwise. Our mentors are living proof that Black people can thrive, survive, inspire, and succeed in community.