CHANCELL-ING: A Month to Honor Role Models and Mentors
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the historic contributions of African Americans and honor our struggles and triumphs. It’s a time to reflect on the contributions we’ve made to society and how much work we still need to do.
Black History Month also reinforces the importance of role models and mentors. I think of the role models who inspired me throughout my life, from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, John Lewis, Muhammad Ali and Hank Aaron.
I’m grateful for the mentors throughout my career who helped shape my journey. In return, I’ve made it a priority to uplift others on their own roads to success.
This month, I’m honored to be selected by the Sacramento Kings as one of their 2021 Dream All-Star recipients. The recognition is for Black community leaders who have made a positive impact in the Sacramento region.
This award comes with a bonus. I was asked to name a young mentee who is making an impact in our community and who deserves recognition, and I selected Mahiri Moore Jr. Mahiri is a UC Davis freshman with big dreams and talent, and an even bigger heart.
He’s the founder of Moore Truth More Change, a nonprofit that aids underrepresented and underprivileged minorities to be successful. One of his efforts included dressing as Marvel’s Black Panther to give books and comics to young families. He’s organized community clean-up projects and mentored low-income students who are transitioning to the rigors of university life.
Success doesn’t come easy
I have no doubt that Mahiri will find great success in life. But I also recognize that his journey hasn’t always been easy. He remembers feeling isolated as the only Black student in his AP English 3 class in high school, and one of few students of color in its Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE, program.
I can relate. When I received my Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1991, I was one of only about 30 African Americans that year who earned a doctorate in the field of engineering. You could have put all of us in a single classroom. In so many lecture halls and laboratories throughout college, I was typically one of very few Black people in the room.
That’s why mentoring has always meant so much to me. To this day, I think of Augustine Esogbue, who took me under his wing when I was an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech. “Dr. E,” as we called him, was the first Black engineering professor at Georgia Tech. He was also the world’s first Black Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering and operations research.
Dr. E inspired me to help others find their paths as well. Throughout my career, I’ve launched programs to grow and mentor the pipeline of diverse talent in higher education and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Both professionally and personally, it’s been gratifying and sometimes humbling to be recognized for these efforts. In 2015, President Obama awarded me with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. And just this week, I received a Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mentoring goes far
In acknowledging this recognition, it’s students like Mahiri who keep me motivated. At a young age, he understands the importance of mentoring and wants to pay it forward in honor of those who’ve guided him or served as role models.
In his words, Mahiri says: “Who would have Thurgood Marshall been without Charles Hamilton Houston (a prominent Black lawyer)? Or Nelson Mandela without Walter Sisulu (an anti-apartheid activist)? You see, mentorship is essential. I have been planted, and I am beyond excited about the great tree I will evolve into from my mentors.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about.
I hope you will also honor those who made a difference in your own life and think of how we can work together in the name of harmony and justice. Black History Month is the perfect time for that.
Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column appears first in The Davis Enterprise and then in Dateline UC Davis.