Q&A with James Anderson

MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership
August 20th, 2014
Posted In: The Mentoring Effect

August 2014

James Anderson is the Program Administrator of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). ARC works to create safe, healthy communities by providing a support and advocacy network for, and comprised of formerly incarcerated young men and women. James came to the ARC after a transforming experience in the juvenile justice system. In his journey, mentors have played pivotal roles, which he discusses in this Q&A. You can also watch James tell his story in this video.

How was mentoring important in changing your life?

Mentoring has played an essential role in my life. Throughout my period of transformation, it was through mentoring that I was able to find out who I was as an individual. Oftentimes we witness at-risk youth dealing with an insurmountable number of obstacles, especially for those returning from incarceration. This happened to also be true for myself. I was very fortunate to have had an extensive network of supporters and mentors who helped me overcome these barriers. After having spent my entire childhood going in and out of the justice system, I found myself released to a world I did not fully understand. With the proper guidance and advice I was able to not only successfully reenter back into society but also return with a newfound confidence. My life now is not only amazing but is also filled with so much purpose and meaning. So much of this is attributed to extraordinary mentors I have had in my life!

 Where do you think you would be without your mentor?

It is clear and evident to myself as well as others around me that without the mentoring I received I would have ended up continuing down a very negative road. Before I had any source of positive influence in my life I was tumbling down a dark hole. I came to a point in my life where I no longer wanted to care about anything. In all reality I felt as though I no longer had a future, the four walls that surrounded me where as far as I could see ahead. As I look back at my life I can’t help but realize the impact my mentors have had on it. My current success is largely a fruit of their hard work and persistence.

How has the change in your life story made your community stronger?

When looking at the effects we as individuals can have on one person you must imagine a line of dominoes knocking one over the other. This is the same effect that happens when you help someone change his or her life. They begin not knocking other people down but picking them up! This starts a chain effect that helps to create the greatest model for change I personally believe exists. I say this because it allows the human spirit to flourish through personal interaction! Growing up I was quickly exposed to a horrible environment filled with violence and hate. I soon became infected with these awful traits and began to hurt my community instead of build it up. I continued down this path for many years and soon lost hope in ever feeling love or happiness again. I quickly became the poster child for the troubled youth that everyone pointed at and would say lock him away for life.  Everyone had given up on me, except one person! Now because of that love I received I was able to undergo a radical transformation, which has allowed me to now stand before you a passionate advocate who has dedicated his life to changing the world. Through my own personal change I have now been able to inspire and mentor many other individuals returning from incarceration. I have been given the pleasure to also become deeply involved in politically advocating for fair and just sentencing. As of July of 2014, I was appointed to the State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (SAC JJDP) by the Governor of California, Jerry Brown. I now am able to play a larger role in systematic change! I believe through my change I am not only continually strengthening my community through my work but also by being a living testimony of what can happen if you give someone a second opportunity!

How do you think law enforcement professionals can benefit from becoming mentors themselves?

I think this is a critical part that needs to take place in order to holistically heal our communities. It is so important for law enforcement to become mentors for several reasons. For one it gives them the opportunity to learn and become more sensitive to their populations’ needs. For years, law enforcement departments have been based solely around militaristic training. This has proved throughout the years to have negative consequences and has created a bridge between them and the community. By involving law enforcement professionals as mentors you allow a space of healing to be created. This is where law enforcement professionals can begin to build healthy relationships with the communities they serve. Allowing for a better, safer, and more respectable community to form. It is critical for them to be given the opportunity to play a role model position in the lives of at-risk youth. Building these types of relationships is key in helping to reconstruct the social dynamics within inner city neighborhoods.

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