The magic of mentoring

Tuesday, 03 May 2011




Mayor launches 1,000 Mentors for London's Youth
olu_alake_-_100_bml_president'In recognition of the power of mentoring, Mayor Boris Johnson recently announced the launch of an initiative to recruit 1,000 mentors for London youth.

100 Black Men of London (100 BML) is one of the organisations in the consortium charged with training these mentors.

We hope that through this programme, and indeed the longer track record of that 100 BML and many unsung heroes at the community-level have had, we will bring real change to London's youths.

Mentoring has become one of those ubiquitous yet still widely misunderstood words, which rose to recent prominence as a by-product of the Era of Diversity ushered into the UK immediately after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.

Lord McPherson's report into his death in 2001 had by pointing the finger of institutional racism at several public authorities elicited a desire for them to be seen to be doing something. Supporting or promoting a programme of activity specially aimed at young Black children in schools was low-hanging fruit which too many used to merely tick boxes, by engaging people and bodies with varying levels of, to undertake mentoring initiatives.

Around the same time, mentoring was also finding some traction in the corporate world, albeit for different reasons – it was identified that providing an additional level of support for young executives, especially from marginalised backgrounds made good business sense, allowing the companies to be seen as employers of choice – and of course there was the inevitable bottom-line payout for them.'

What is mentoring?

Odesyous_left_his_son_Telemachus_in_the_care_of__Mentor'So exactly what is mentoring? The origin of the word 'Mentor' comes from Greek Mythology – it is said that when Odysseus travelled to fight in the Trojan War, he left a servant to act as guardian and tutor to his son. That servant's name was Mentor.

A mentor in today's language means a person who acts as a trusted guide to another. A mentor can be a friend, a coach, teacher, relative or any other person, the important element being that this mentor is there to help the mentee to find his or her own way in life.

In this sense, mentoring differs from other widely misunderstood concepts such as coaching and counselling.
The mentoring role is more multi-faceted, the main difference being in perspective: counsellors assist by looking backwards, coaches assist by looking forwards and mentors help to bridge the gap between what was and what can be.

An effective mentoring programme is therefore one that facilitates the development of positive relationships where the mentor can be equipped to consistently demonstrate these characteristics.

Exceptional mentoring is more concerned with teaching people how to think rather than telling them what to think. This is one of the key mantras underpinning the mentoring programme of the 100 Black Men of London (100 BMOL).'

Ten years of serving the community
100_BML_10_years_of_service_logo_'For the past ten years, this organisation has been running life-skills mentoring programmes for young people between the ages of 10 – 16 all over London, delivered free of charge to the community.

An affiliate chapter of the 100 Black Men of America, (which boasts a proud almost 50 year history and prominent members such as Bill Cosby, Gen Colin Powell, Magic Johnson and Spike Lee), 100 Black Men of London's award-winning mentoring programme has touched the lives of over three hundred young people.

All these young people come to the 100 with broadly similar profiles: they come, usually brought by concerned parents, in search of something more, a deeper more visceral sense of themselves, a feeling of empowerment and upliftment, a sliver of the internal light of possibility, aspirations for the embers of hope deep within them to be fanned into flames of fulfilment.

By focussing on life-skills, i.e. those skills we need to get through life that we never get taught in school, 100BMOL works with the young people and their family support structures to equip them to better negotiate the challenges of an often unsympathetic education system, disproportionately limited home life and an increasingly dangerous street.
At university studying law 
black-studentWhile measuring success for such programmes will never be an exact science, the anecdotal evidence of the many hundreds of young people and parents who have attended the programme is telling.

Dane is now at university studying Law. "But for the 100 coming into my life, I would never have thought of going to uni," he now says. What makes him so sure? "None of the guys I used to hang with eight years ago have gone to uni.

Some are still on the streets, some are in jail and some are dead. One of the key things I did differently was attend the 100 programme.

Olu Alake - President, 100 Black Men of London.

(For more information on the Mayor's programme, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).'
To find out more about or become a member of 100 Black Men of London, visit the website or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

By Olu Alake
About the author

Olu president of the educational charity 100 Black Men of London . He has a background in heritage and the arts and sits on the board of Tiata Fahodzi African Theatre Company.

He has held senior management positions in the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Arts Council and is currently head of funding at the new Equality and Human Rights Commission.

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