Why Mentoring Matters for Minorities

Last Updated by Soledad O'Brien on

Sheba Turk has a dynamic personality. She's the kind of driven, ambitious, smart young woman who will do well at whatever she pursues -- if only given the chance.

But after just over a year of college, she ran out of money and lost her way. Sheba had dreamed of becoming an on-air television reporter. She was studying Broadcast Journalism at New York University, until it became too expensive. She then moved home to attend University of New Orleans. That university priced her out as well. She told her teachers she had no "Plan B."

Then, we met. I immediately saw in her all the raw potential she needed to make it and funded her college tuition through my Starfish Foundation, which sends girls to and through college. That's not where my commitment ended though. I became her mentor, talking her through each crisis at school, giving her advice on how to pursue her career and connecting her to important contacts. I even provided a place for her to live in New York so she could spend the summer interning on the morning show I used to anchor at CNN. We had a special connection as two black women from similar backgrounds pursuing the same career.

Sheba is now the anchor of the Eyewitness Morning News for WWL-TV in New Orleans and host of "The 504." I am so proud of all she has accomplished, and am inspired to work harder and make new dreams of my own because of Sheba's success.

Mentoring is critical for young women -- and men -- like Sheba. National high school graduation rates have reached a record high, currently at 82 percent according to Grad Nation. Yet there are still gaps between the graduation rates of students who are blacks, Latinos, learning English or disabled and their white counterparts. There is a difference of 14.7 percentage points in the graduation rate between black and white students, and 10.9 percent between Latinos and whites. The lack of mentoring is part of the reason, according to a report by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. Mentors, said the report, help signal when a student is in trouble by flagging behavioral issues and absenteeism. They connect learning to life and work and serve as role models.

It is extremely critical for at-risk youth to be able to see themselves in their mentors, which is why America needs higher numbers of mentors from diverse backgrounds. This will help prove to students in more disadvantaged populations that success is feasible. Yet MENTOR also found that 16 million youth will reach adulthood without mentors. That's discouraging considering that 76 percent of at-risk youth with mentors plan a college career as compared to 56 percent of at-risk youth with no mentor.

Sheba Turk did more than reach her dreams. She is helping other young women achieve their dreams by being a mentor and speaking at women's empowerment conferences where hundreds of young women from around the country gather to learn about how to succeed in school and connect with various mentoring resources.

You can help too, by becoming a mentor. September 17, the American Graduate Day broadcast featured more than 50 nonprofit organizations, like MENTOR, as well as countless individuals who are making a difference in local communities across the country. You can connect with any one of them and begin mentoring a young person in your community. I highly recommend it, not just because you can help someone achieve their dreams, but also because they will also enrich your life - just as Sheba has enriched mine.