Mentoring matters: A continuum of connections
I was raised to understand that if you can help someone you should. If you have the capacity to make change, you should. It’s important to seek out relationships with others that allow us to make change together. Helping kids like Elijah and Capryce is about doing what you believe is right, for the right reasons. Anyone in a position of power, I want to see them do this. That’s where equity comes in. I would like to believe that everyone has someone they can look up to in their life because I know what a big difference it can make to them. I know that isn’t true for everyone, and that’s sad, but if each of us does our part, maybe someday, we’ll get there.
—Dr. Kwame Dance
Kwame is the founder of the Mental Health ACCESS (Advancement of Culturally Competent Education to Stop Stigma), a paid mental health career exposure and psychoeducation internship program for young people of color. He is a 2022 Imagined in Cambridge! Social Innovation Award winner.
My friends and I struggled so much in high school. We didn’t speak about mental health. I knew we had anxiety, but I had no terminology to express it without feeling like an outcast. I met Kwame a decade ago at the Morse Youth Center. We had similar interests in psychology, and he exposed me to the mental health profession and my own leadership skills. Now I get to work with kids like Elijah, who is motivated to apply his vision to problem solving and will go well past where he thinks he’s going to go. Mentors like Kwame are powerful; they bring you back to self. I think dignity is remembering who you are and when you forget, surrounding yourself with the people who will remind you.
Capryce worked with ACCESS throughout college and is now its program director. She graduated from UMass Amherst in 2021 with a degree in psychology.
Growing up in Cambridge I was surrounded by people who were innovating, and I wanted to add to this idea-driven city. But it’s hard to get involved when you don’t know who to talk to, how to get into this. Originally, I thought I wanted to be an architect, but then I did the Mental Health ACCESS program, based on getting Black youth into mental health careers to break the stigma, and now I want to be a psychologist. I want to understand how to help others. Once you make one connection within the community, it’s almost like this welcoming hand appears and you can start making connections with everyone.
Elijah is a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and a member of the Cambridge Youth Council. He has worked with ACCESS, the Young People’s Project, and Innovators for Purpose, all CCF nonprofit partners.