Today I am in a reflective and contemplative mood. I was thinking about how important it is for leaders and professors to mentor and empower BIPOC employees and students. And that got me to look back in my life and think about who has helped me get to where I am today in my career, working in a role that allows me to combine my school counseling expertise with antiracism work. I am so much in my dream job that it often does not feel like work. A few people came to mind. And I would like to thank them here, in the next few blog posts. I also want to give you a few examples of the types of things they did to support me. Because you know what? They are probably not going to seem to you like that big of a deal, but to me, they were. For today, I will start with my first boss, Brian Thatcher.
At my first job as a high school counselor at a suburban Chicago school, a white man named Brian Thatcher was my supervisor. He saw something in me and believed in all my, sometimes outside-the-box, ideas and ways of thinking. He didn’t act like he didn’t see color/race/ethnicity and specifically spoke to me about how the way I saw the world as a Latina was something of great value and importance. I felt heard and respected. He was so clever! Listen to this…even if he knew that one of my ideas could totally flop, he supported me and allowed me to fail. He taught me to learn from my mistakes. And when mistakes happened and they did, he was there to listen and support me through it. I will never forget the time one of those ideas went awry.
I ran a program that trained high school seniors to talk about diversity and inclusion to 9th graders in a program called First Class. I thought we should do one of the activities about stereotypes with the whole faculty at the same time in one large space (the cafeteria), so teachers could start to engage in discussions about diversity and inclusion with their students too. It sounds like a good idea, right?! What could possibly go wrong? Come on, it was 1998, almost 'time to party like it's 1999!' Well let’s just say it ended with me standing by myself in front of the whole faculty, 150 teachers, with my jaw wide open in utter shock, as a white teacher said, “why would I want to talk to them about being Hispanic? It’ll just remind them how bad that is!” Jaw drop, record scratches.
Nobody said anything for what seemed like 5 minutes. Like I said, I was in shock. She was talking about students in her care! I was a mix of sad, embarrassed, and angry. Fortunately, another teacher spoke up, broke the ice, and allowed me to regain my composure to address her. I did and it was obvious she was not going to listen to me, after all, I was a Hispanic who should be ashamed of my background. Brian then stood up and as the Head of the Counseling Department gently told her in the most polite way, to go to hell. And then he listened to me as I cried in front of him in his office. Yes, that happened….in my first job as counselor.
Maybe that does seem like a big deal to you now too. In all of it though, it is not exactly what he did in that moment and several others, it was how he made me feel like I could be my full self, that I could be authentic, that I could be me, the passionate, heart- on -my -sleeve, Colombian-American woman that I am. He is no longer here with us, but if you can hear me, thank you, Brian, for helping me become who I am today.
If you are a white male boss, is there anyone you can mentor in a similar way? It could mean the world to them.