Pay it Forward

By: Emerson Lovell

#GradSZN is upon us. Across the country black students are draped in their Kente Cloth stoles and decked out graduation caps. All rejoicing in their journey coming to and end as well as flaunting (as they should) that oh so precious melanin of theirs.

I too walked across the stage during this #GradSZN and many thoughts came to mind but one in particular stood out, I AM IN DEBT. That thought ruminated through my head as I shook hands with the faculty and posed for the camera. Even when my mother came to hug all I can think about was this immense debt.

The debt I am referring to is not financial, though that is very real, but what I am referring to is societal. In order to make it to the pinnacle of our young lives thus far, we were immersed in the wisdom, opportunities, and resources of mentors who made us a priority, and who have provided what we lacked when we needed it most. This sentiment extends beyond mentors, as it is applicable to friends and family who motivated us through the rigors of collegiate life.  However, the power of mentorship is a major key. We have all heard the old adage “We stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us…” but when I think of paying my debt forward, I am not thinking of the giants. Instead, I think to a Nelson Mandela quote, “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.” It is my duty to help a youth discover what their passion is, what motivates them and how to reach their short term and long term goals. My debt is not cleared until I pay it forward. Paying it forward is not generic, it takes many forms but the universal premise is helping someone up the ladder. I did not get to my rung on the ladder by myself and I will not get to my next one by myself, but while I am here I can give a hand to help pull someone else up.  How does someone change a culture? Simple, you influence the next generation. Sure Millennials are movers and shakers but does it matter if we are failing to move the most important aspect of our society forward with us. It is up to us to help uplift the youth just as we were once uplifted, and if you were not uplifted that void you feel is something you would not wish on another person, therefore it is your prerogative to uplift as well. By accepting the wisdom, resources and opportunities of our mentors, we enter in a contract with them that can only be fulfilled by assuming their role and helping another.

Yes we stand on the shoulders of giants, but I nor any other twenty year old sees themself as a giant yet. It is imperative to realize that just because you are not a giant yet does not mean someone cannot stand on your shoulders now. Think of where you would be without your mentors illuminating your path? Now tell me you are not in debt? You probably cannot but what you can do is pay it forward. There is a multitude of ways of doing it: read at an elementary school twice a month, speak to middle schoolers about their aspirations and help them write short term and long term goals, talk to high schoolers about the importance of college or trade school and help them map out a path to the end of their tunnel, or help that college student by sending them an opportunity that comes across you email or desk. Join a Boys and Girls Club where you can volunteer on the weekends, at work make a team to walk/race to raise money for an after school club in your community, become a mentor for an A Better Chance Program Scholar.

Or practice the lost art of our society, listening. Be a willing ear, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to share joy with and one to face adversity with. There are so many ways to pay your debt forward, I just hope you find your way.

Photo Credit: Lee Chapman