Each One, Teach One: A Speed Dating Exercise in Mentorship

Guest post by Aaliyah Miller

“Each one, teach one.” An African proverb

The African proverb above has a strong significance in my life. It’s significance is two-fold; historical and practical. According to Wikipedia, the short yet powerful phrase, “originated in the United States during slavery, when Africans were denied education, including learning to read. Many if not most enslaved people were kept in a state of ignorance about anything beyond their immediate circumstances which were under control of owners, the law makers and authorities. When an enslaved person learned or was taught to read, it became his duty to teach someone else, spawning the phrase “Each one teach one.”

From a practical stand point I’ve been impacted by those who have embraced this proverb. Since I was a kid, individuals have helped to educate and influence me by putting this proverb into action. At the early age of five I was learning new skills, being encouraged, and mentored to by women leaders (who probably wouldn’t have seen themselves in this light) at the Waterbury Girls Club (home of the first girls club in 1864, today the organization is known as Girls Inc). And as an adult I continue to live out this proverb through networking and by mentoring others .

Mentoring can be a game changer for an individual. It has the power:

  • To inspire
  • Help both parties learn from each other and gain perspective
  • Develop and enhance communication skills
  • Allow individuals to network and build relationships that will help to advance one’s career

A couple of weeks ago I was reminded of the power of mentoring and the African proverb when I joined Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) and the University of Hartford’s Women’s Advancement Initiative for a mentoring opportunity that took the form of a speed dating exercise. I was one of about 20 HYPE members who shared a bit about myself, my career, and how I forged it.

Our group represented a range of careers and age groups, from recent college graduates to individuals who are more than 15 years into their professions. Despite our career differences we hit on universal themes like:

  • Your professional life will not be a linear path
  • Find a career you can be passionate about and that will drive you
  • You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up
  • It’s never to early to start networking
  • The importance of creating your own definition of success instead of having it defined by others

While I think the young women from the University of Hartford’s Women’s Advancement Initiative learned from us, I was more impressed by them and interested in hearing their stories and goals for the future. They were a dynamic group with different goals as well as diversity of thought. Through our speed dates I personally talked to four of the students there; two of the young women shared their goals of owning their own businesses to provide clinical care and support mental health needs at the community level, one is a communications student with an interest in film and storytelling, the fourth is majoring in psychology with minor in communications. The resources and support these women are getting will help them reach their future goals.

When I get dismayed by the 24-7 news cycle and think about the challenges we face as a society I remind myself of the African proverb, “Each one, teach one,” and I look for opportunities to give back or pay it forward. I know it matters on the micro and macro level.

A big thank you to Amy Jaffe-Barzach, executive director of The Women’s Advancement Initiative and Shannon Mumley, the program’s manager for recognizing the need for this program. Programs like this will help to support and foster the talent pipeline to the next generation of women leaders. I also have to shout out Kim Bishop, the executive director of HYPE for putting this event on my radar.

Remember, no matter who you are, we all have gifts to to share that can inform, inspire, and be the catalyst for something bigger and better in life. So when you have the chance to follow the African proverb, “Each one, teach one,” take it.

This post originally appeared here. Used by permission of the author.

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