My last article outlined tips for adults looking to mentor young people. This article will reflect on a former peer and one of his mentees.
Mr. Troy was a fellow mentor in Higher Achievement, where our middle school aged scholars (mentees) were encouraged to refer to us adult mentors formally as Mr. or Mrs. (fill in your first name). My title was Mr. Anwar. Though we had met a year or two in advance, it wasn’t until the end of my fourth year in the program that we became friends. Not having a car, he generously gave me rides to the metro after mentoring and on a couple of instances we had drinks afterwards. He was from Detroit and with me being a University of Michigan alumnus, we were both familiar with Southeastern Michigan. Our discussions covered numerous topics, but many of them involved his scholar we’ll refer to as Jordan in this article.
Of Mr. Troy’s scholars, Jordan kept him the busiest. Jordan was a pale complexioned kid with curly brown hair. He was very energetic and pretty much did whatever he wanted to do even when instructed otherwise, similar to his identical twin Jason who was slightly taller and older. Both brothers regularly challenged authority and sticking with the night’s activity. After being told “No” by one adult mentor, it wasn’t uncommon for them to run to another one who wasn’t privy to what was going on to get whatever they wanted. There were several nights when we would look on as they would run around the center wreaking havoc and getting into things they shouldn’t have been.
Mr. Troy, a father of two grown young adults himself, speculated that Jordan was the middle child and as such, felt the need to seek attention sometimes even the most destructive and disruptive ways. Interestingly even though Jordan had tested his patience on numerous nights, Mr. Troy still found a space within himself to understand the kid.
Mr. Troy even decided to have some fun with the situation. One night he bet Jordan that if he could go a certain number of nights without being disruptive, he would shave his head. Mr. Troy wasn’t worried though because he felt that Jordan had little chance of controlling himself enough to win the bet. He was predictable in that way and Mr. Troy was right. Then at the night of the graduation ceremony, Jordan said something that none of us expected.
“I want to thank Mr. Troy for everything he’s done for me, and for being my mentor over the last four years,” Jordan said in front all of the mentors, scholars and parents. We were shocked. We looked at each other and chuckled a little bit in a restrained way. The one scholar who seemed to want to follow directions the least, ultimately appreciated all of the effort that had been put into him over the previous four years. We reflected on it over drinks again at the end of that night.
Mr. Troy’s mentoring of Jordan showed that sometimes you are actually making a difference in a young person’s life even when it doesn’t feel like you are. This extends well beyond Higher Achievement’s mentors and scholars. Back at Hutch-Tech high school in Buffalo, NY, a teacher once told me that several former students returned and thanked him for being hard on them because they found that the adult world could be an unforgiving and demanding place all in itself, and that all workplaces (the public and private sectors, and the military) were in need of mature and responsible individuals with internal structure and discipline.
That night of Jordan’s revelation was my last time seeing and speaking with Mr. Troy. We lost him around this time last year. We were all surprised to hear of his passing, and Jordan probably was too. He was the recipient of one of Mr. Troy’s last great gifts; a conscientious adult willing to mentor him, discipline him and provide him structure.