Keys for Liberation: Mentorship at Share Our Strength

This year, the Black Affinity Group at Share Our Strength, the organization behind No Kid Hungry, is celebrating Black History Month through the theme of Black liberation—the notion that Black people can live free of physical, economic and social coercion. 

As hunger disproportionately affects Black families with children, we believe this liberation is essential for our work at No Kid Hungry, and it’s part of a movement that envisions all people of color having our basic needs met, finding safety and being compensated for our contributions to our communities. 

As the organization embarks on an equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) journey to better support the communities we serve and the individuals working in our organization, we recognize the importance of Black leaders who can be mentors for junior staff. . What better way to be an example than creating pathways for staff of color to be reflected in positions of power. 

Today, three junior staff, Adu Ogbagiorgis, Faith Adeola and Kayla Williams, share their reflections and experiences with Black mentors within the organization. 

What has been the journey of finding and working with your mentor at Share our Strength? What is your favorite thing about working with them? 

Ogbagiorgis: “I’ve been blessed with two mentors - Pamela Taylor, senior vice president & chief communications and marketing and Ashanti Lewis, associate director, federal government relations. I began working with them during the early part of 2022. Pamela and I were paired through Share Our Strength’s mentorship program and Ashanti was just hired onto the advocacy and government relations team. Interestingly, they entered my life at a time where having successful Black women in my corner was super critical and enlightening! 

My favorite thing about Pamela is that we’re total opposites. She’s an avid sports fan while you’ll find me in a corner consuming the latest television shows and movies. But importantly, she challenges me to step out of my comfort zone and pushes me to be the best possible version of myself. 

My favorite thing about Ashanti is that from the moment we met she just immediately took me under her wing. She’s been in the government relations field for nearly 2 decades and wants to make sure I have all the tools and skills as a new face in the space. Not to mention, the government relations world is still predominantly white and male so it’s great to have a mentor who knows the ins and outs from the lens of Black women. 

Pamela and Ashanti are also just really fun to work with - we’re always laughing and having great conversations.” 

Adeola: “I started working with Lillian Singh, senior vice president of family and economic mobility, when she came on board in November of 2021. I was first asked to support her with some administrative tasks and then a position opened up on her team and I was blessed to have received the role. Working with Lillian has been extremely rewarding and inspiring. My favorite thing about working with Lillian is her ability to encourage and challenge others. I have been blessed to work on several projects in which I was nervous about but with her encouraging words and support I was able to accomplish them. I also love the fact that she always brings the fun! She is always open to different ideas and ways of thinking about innovative solutions.” 

Williams: “After being awarded the Tom Ford Fellowship in Philanthropy from Stanford University around this time last year, I was put on a mission to find a suitable place to plant my feet as a budding professional, and each day I wake up appreciative of the sunshine, and nourishment that my choice has granted me. I met with leaders that previous fellows worked with, folks that I heard and read about on my own, and then there was Lillian who I was connected to as a former fellow herself! From the candor and warmth that she met me with off the bat, to the astounding alignment of our journeys and missions, to her genuine investment in my growth, I knew I had found the ideal mentor in her.” 

Why are you inspired to do this work and how does the relationship with your mentor inspire you to do this work? 

Ogbagiorgis: Advocacy has always been an integral part of my Eritrean culture and upbringing, so being able to advocate on the behalf of families and kids as part of my day to day is a  dream come true! The open and honest relationship between me and my mentors has inspired me to reach for the stars in my personal and professional life. It's empowering to have someone who looks like you rooting and cheering for you.

Why is it important to be able to see people like you in higher positions?

Adeola:  “I see myself in you” I remember hearing these words from Lillian Singh when she informed me that I would be the new associate on the family economic mobility Team. I found these words touching coming from a Black woman I aspire to be like. 

As a young Black woman watching Lillian lead the organization in such a dynamic way has only inspired me to be more motivated and driven to build pathways for families out of poverty. When I think of the importance of seeing people like me in higher positions, specifically Black leaders,  it only instills connections on a deeper level and a strong sense of believing in oneself. It instills the mentality that if they can do it, so can I. Being able to relate to someone in the workplace that not only looks like you but also has a shared understanding of who you are as an individual and your value is truly a blessing. 

What’s the role of intergenerational collaboration/ relationships when we talk about liberation?

Williams: When we talk about liberation, or any sort of true progress, we set ourselves back thinking that we are the first, last or greatest to do this work, a truth that can be taken from a macro level all the way down to a micro level. On a large scale, we must recognize that questions of justice, equality and anticapitalism have been here for generations, and will likely be here for generations more – and while this can be daunting, it should be more liberating to know that we are joining rank and file into a tried and true fight that has led to liberated nations, emancipated people, increased life expectancies and greater liberties. 

This, taken down to the individual level, is why I, and my peers, elate at being able to see women like us doing work that we want to do and fighting fights that we aspire to have a stake in. Each victory for them is a victory for us and another reminder that the road ahead is long but traveled, that the work is hard but worth it, that our dreams are bold but attainable.

 This Black Liberation Month, we uplift those who have paved the way for us, and those who actively reach back to pull us alongside them. Mentorship is important because it cultivates a relationship in which an individual has someone who can provide guidance, feedback and motivation for one to implore on an upward trajectory of mobility in both their professional and personal life. Mentorship relationships are key to have in life especially for Black people as a source of feeling a sense of respect, belonging and empowerment. The role of Black mentorship plays a pivotal role in Black liberation as young Bblack people like us aspire to continue the legacy of those before us to live free of physical, economic and social coercion, therefore finding safety and security with mentors who look like us. With our mentors by our side, we’re able to show up as a full best selves at work and be even more empowered to find and pitch creative solutions to ending childhood hunger!