Vision, Art, & Faith meet Mentorship
When I was in college, I had the privilege of working for the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives that provided engaging programs for students at the University of Michigan. As a mentor within one of these programs called the Leader's and Best, I was paired with minority freshmen who needed guidance while navigating college life. First year's, especially those of color, typically require more assistance when getting acclimated to college life academically and socially. So this program was and continues to be an amazing resource for students of color who often make up less than 5% of the entire student population and thus require more support from their communities including upperclassmen who have been in their shoes.
When I discovered the organization I jumped at the opportunity, especially as a black female pursuing a professional career in the arts. Growing up I didn't know many black female artists and once I got to Michigan that number didn't change much, so I wanted to be a resource to incoming students - This is where Shenika comes in.
When I met Shenika I noticed her go-getter attitude and openness to trying new things. We spent a lot of our time talking about scheduling, life at Michigan and finding a good balance between one's academic and social life. She was majoring in opera and I could tell just by here speaking voice that she could sang. When I graduated about two years later we kept in touch primarily via facebook but hadn't seen each other until last week about 7 years later. She was booked for a gig in Paris (congrats again girl!) and decided to make a proper Eurotrip out of it and stopped in Brussels for not even 12 hours.
When we met it almost felt like the 7 years never passed. She is still a bubbly, focused and about her business type of person who is excited about the possibilities of her career and life. Since graduating from Michigan, she's attained her Master's degree and become a freelance opera singer, working on various projects throughout the year. She even noted learning the music for these projects during this trip to make sure she's ready to work once she's stateside. It's crazy how much I see myself in the way she works and approaches her life. I, in turn, answered any questions she asked me about my life, work, and experiences in Brussels and encouraged her to continue seeking opportunities beyond the States.
I'd never considered the lifelong implications of mentorship until our not even 30 minute rendezvous was over and I read the following facebook post:
"Reconnecting Brussels 💛💙 When I started college as a freshman at the University of Michigan (a few years ago), I was mentored by this intelligent and talented woman who continues to impact her community in the world of dance and movement. Without Briana Stuart encouraging me to apply to certain programs that would equip me for success, I wouldn’t have had some of the scholarships I received. Her kindness and generosity opened a door for me, and gave me the opportunity to hold the same door open for others who came after me. Forever grateful, and Forever Go Blue! #OAMI#goblue @ Citylab Pianofabriek"
I actually specifically remember the sessions where I continuously pushed her to apply for scholarships or programs for her talent and achievements. It had been so important for me when I was in school (cause it ain't cheap) that I passed on that same knowledge and encouragement. And I'm so grateful to see that she will do that same.
I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoyed sharing and passing on ideas and knowledge that her visit pushed me to blog about it (lol) and reflect on the importance of mentorship. I've been blessed with an amazing life and experiences and I've learned tons of things along the way. It's easy to just move through life like our actions and words don't make a difference, but many times we affect others more than we think. Thank you Shenika for being a positive reminder of my past and a sign of the positive influence I may have on other black female artists in the future.
"After all what's the purpose of knowledge if it can't be shared with others."
If you know of any black female artists that seek a mentor or just someone to talk to about being a professional artist, don't hesitate to reach out. I'd love to help out as much as I can.
Thanks for reading,
And remember, always have a Faith, keep a Vision and make Art in everything that you do.