IILP’s Inclusion at Work blog embodied the vision and dreams of its founder and Editor-in-Chief, Takeia R. Johnson. Takeia envisioned it as a place to discuss the ways that issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) play out in the legal profession. It was intended to be a place where the legal profession could share thoughts, perspectives, and experiences about DEI, especially those that often weren’t talked about publicly or only in whispers. Takeia wanted it to be a place where we could find the humor, see the absurdity, reveal the contradictions, and disclose the hurts that are part and parcel of DEI in this profession. This was to be a blog where we could counter diversity fatigue by getting things off our collective chests, share the stories that would not necessarily fit into diversity CLE programs, and perhaps be a release valve of sorts for everyone in the legal profession’s DEI trenches. Takeia herself embraced that mission by writing posts characterized by their brutal honesty, gentle amusement, and, always, warm humanity. We lost Takeia far too early and mourn her passing. Hers was a bright, brilliant, and beautiful talent that will be sorely missed. We’ll miss her smile, quick wit, and compassion. She wrote the following, her last post, a scant few weeks before she died. She took great pride in the publication of her posts, so we publish this last one now as a tribute to a voice that should not have been silenced so prematurely and a friend whom we miss deeply.
by Takeia R. Johnson
I was waiting for pancakes when I saw a ghost. It was my former mentor from high school.
Trying to steady my nerves, I took a breath and walked over. To my advantage, she was the only person sitting at the table at the time.
I asked her, “Are you [former mentor’s name]?” She confirmed that she was my former mentor.
I said, “I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m Takeia.”
She remembered. Just then we were interrupted when one of her brunch-mates returned to the table and recognized the graphics on my t-shirt. It was red with an elephant on it, the symbol for our sorority, and we connected as sorors of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
They had already paid the check and were on their way out when I came over, so I did not want to hold them up. I said goodbye and returned to my table. That was it. I had accomplished nothing and was frustrated that there was no time – and I did not make time – for my former mentor and I to reconnect at all. There was not even the obligatory exchange of business cards, or, “we should catch up.”
I thought about how our last meeting was about 20 years ago. It pretty much went like every other time. She wanted to expose me to parts of society and culture that I had yet been exposed to. That time, we went to her favorite French bistro in downtown Chicago.
After having brunch – this was before “brunching” was a thing – we walked and talked. We went to Old Navy where she bought me some clothes for college. I had no idea that would be last day that I heard from her.
In college, I tried getting in touch. She never answered calls or returned messages. She did not respond to emails. Another kid in the scholarship program that matched me with my former mentor had the benefit of his mentor in college, so I was confused. I knew what type of work she did, so I looked up her office and found her work profile and photo. I sent a card and wanted to be spiteful because she left me hanging. Instead, I thanked her for her mentoring during my junior and senior years of high school and told her I would not try to get in touch again. I told her that I hope all is well with her and her family and her work. I asked that should she mentor someone again, that she have a formal or informal goodbye.
You can’t just disappear. I still don’t know if she ghosted me because she served her agreed upon term of mentorship. I carry that experience with me today. It informs my interactions and experiences with people who seek out my counsel as a mentor.
I have a good friend who worked with a non-profit organization to be a mentor to a high-schooler. My friend was intentional in concluding the formal relationship they had. As the mentor, she made sure her mentee understood that they would work together for three years. One of the benchmarks my friend was supposed to reach as a mentor through the program was to get her mentee to graduation. She did, and even attended the graduation ceremony, gift in hand. She began talking to her mentee about their mentoring relationship ending before her mentee achieved that major milestone.
You don’t have to be like my friend. She is, however, an excellent example of how to intentionally mark the end of a mentorship, especially when, as the mentor, you are in a position of power and influence in your mentee’s life.
Do you have any interesting mentorship stories? Send them and we’ll try to feature your stories.