Mentoring Moments: Reflecting on a 20+ Year Mentoring Relationship (During the Coronavirus Pandemic)

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July 14th, 2020
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Oshea & Wanda

I’m currently at my home, obeying a stay at home order due to the dangers posed by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Daily I read about the tragic loss of life, and pray for this to end. During this difficult time, a bright light has been my phone calls with my mentee. Wanda and I have spoken almost daily. I still call her my mentee, though it’s been over 20 years since we met.  

It was 1999, and the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office partnered with Theodore Roosevelt High School to provide mentors for a mentorship program. At the time, I was a newly minted attorney who had recently moved to NYC from Texas to hone my litigation skills. I signed up to serve as a mentor because I love kids, and benefitted from a number of informal mentors in my life. So I completed the required questionnaire, and waited to be matched with a mentee.  

I remember when Wanda walked into my office for our first meeting. I was so happy and talkative. I just knew we’d be chatting constantly. Interestingly, Wanda was kind and polite, but didn’t talk much unless I asked her a question. I thought to myself, “She probably regrets having such a talkative mentor… Maybe they made a mistake when they matched us.” Needless to say, I was wrong!

Wanda’s perspective:
When I first met Oshea my first impression was that she spoke very fast. Even though I was able to understand everything she was saying, my confidence speaking English was very low at the time.  I grew up in an all Spanish speaking household, and all my classes were in Spanish.  One of the reasons that I joined the mentoring program was in hopes of challenging myself, and meeting someone who would challenge me. I must say that I was lucky to find Oshea. Our first meeting consisted of her talking most of the time, but as time passed she encouraged me to speak more and more, and to be confident in myself. 

Wanda and I would meet in my office.  We discussed school and life in general. Eventually she talked more, and it was obvious that she had a quick wit and was very intelligent. I still remember calling her house and hearing her mom say,”Es la abogada!” We visited the bookstore, and I introduced her to my favorite soul food restaurant. Before long, she was inducted into the national honor society at her school. I raced from my office to attend the ceremony.

Wanda’s perspective:
I still remember our visits to the bookstore and the soul food restaurant in Harlem. That’s where I ate chicken and waffles for the first time, and it’s still my favorite breakfast. Oshea exposed me to new experiences and fostered a great appreciation for reading. 

Wanda eventually moved to Boston, but we stayed in touch.  She graduated from high school and headed to Bard College. By then I had moved back to Texas, but I traveled to NYC to meet up with friends (including Wanda). During those times she pleaded with me to help her leave Bard. She didn’t like being upstate, far away from the subway and the business of a large city. I explained over and over that she should stay at Bard, or risk losing credits. While at Bard, she accepted an internship with one of my former colleagues from the DA’s office. When it was time for her to graduate, I flew to NYC and took a train to upstate New York. Seeing her graduate from college was one of my proudest moments. 

Fast forward, Wanda is now married, has a two-year-old son, and a successful career. We have shared many special moments. She was a hostess in my wedding. Then when she announced that she was getting married, her bridesmaids helped me to host a bridal shower in New Jersey in her honor (since I was still living in Texas!). Years later, I accepted another job in NYC. Wanda introduced me to a realtor and went with me to look for places to live.  We now live 20 minutes apart! We talk on the phone, and she talks as much, if not more, than I do! 

Wanda’s perspective
One of the main things Oshea has taught me is to have confidence in myself. As a young girl I was very timid and insecure. Oshea showed me what is it to be a successful woman of color, to be happy in my own skin, and to strive for bigger things. Oshea has always offered me guidance while still respecting my own ideas. Now that I am a mother, she is still my voice of reason.  During the stressful time of this pandemic, she keeps me grounded.

Throughout the years, Wanda has taught me patience, how to be calm in chaotic situations, and encouraged me to challenge myself.  Most importantly, she has taught me to live my narrative, and ignore narratives that others try to attribute to me.

As I reflect on how life has changed during the coronavirus, I am still soooo thankful. At a time when most relationships are virtual, I am reminded of the value of mentoring. Mentorship is about building relationships. Although Wanda and I can’t see each other in person, I have learned that connecting with my mentee is now more important than ever.

Submitted by Oshea Spencer and Wanda Rosario

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