When I joined SisterMentors, I had been in a 6-month writing slump. I was depressed and desperate for a way to end my writer’s block so that I could free myself from graduate school and earn a decent living. I knew that the group would help me with goal-setting, and I felt that would save me. I was wrong; they did so much more than help me set goals. There’s no question: without SisterMentors and Dr. Shireen, I simply would not have made it to the PhD. And I certainly would not be happy and making good progress now in my tenure-track position at a Research I institution
Before agreeing to interview me for possible acceptance into the group, Dr. Shireen told me to spend at least two hours writing in a journal. I was to vent on paper about why I was not making progress. That writing assignment was the beginning of a breakthrough. It showed me that I could not ignore the links between my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health if I wanted to reach professional goals; being an unbalanced workaholic just wasn’t cutting it.
Uncompromising in its holistic approach, SisterMentors was the one entity that I could rely on to treat me as a whole person-and it required me to treat myself that way too. At meetings, we reported on our progress, but we also discussed any personal issues that may have been hindering or helping that progress. It was a safe space to share hardships and find support and empathy; no one was treated as if they were nothing if they hadn’t reached their three-week goals. But, just as importantly, Dr. Shireen recruits women who will truly rejoice in each other’s successes. For me, that made a tremendous difference. As a woman of color pursuing graduate education, I not only encountered opposition from a mainstream society that assumed that I was not intelligent; I was also often discouraged by “my own” when they felt threatened by my successes. Having a safe space to share trials and triumphs was more valuable than I can say.
Mentoring young girls transformed me as much as interacting with positive, supportive peers. I was the first to attend college in my family, so reaching this level of education has made me keenly aware of how tremendous my opportunities have been. I feel a responsibility to take full advantage of them, but I cannot feel good about my success without sharing what I have learned with those who face the challenges that I faced. Nevertheless, mentoring one-on-one while in school would have been overwhelming because I would have felt that I was letting my mentee down when facing deadlines. The group mentoring model that SisterMentors has wisely adopted allowed me to reach out without falling over myself. Dr. Shireen recruits women who believe that education is worthless if you can’t share it with your community and who are willing to put their time and money where their mouth is.
I will never forget the difference that SisterMentors made in my life; finding this program was a real defining moment. As I said in the dedication of my doctoral thesis: “I would not still be standing to submit this dissertation without the support of Dr. Shireen K. Lewis and her program, SisterMentors. It has meant so much to me that all these sisters actually wanted to see me succeed. Thank you for refusing to allow me to struggle in isolation. All of you chose to add to, rather than take away from, the strength I gained from the Ancestors.”