I had the pleasure to participate in a conference call sponsored by Susan Taylor’s National Cares-mentoring program last Monday, May 19th and the special guest on the conference call was Dr. Maya Angelou. The focus of the call was the importance of mentoring young people. I value the voices of elders and youth; often these voices are dismissed for varying reasons so it was a joy to hear Dr. Angelou, an elder, discuss why mentoring young people is so imperative. She said something that will stay with me as long as I am on this earth:

“Courage is the most important virtue. You can’t be anything consistently without courage.”

These words have great impact on the work I do as Director of Education & Community Engagement for Welcoming Schools.  I realize each time I am in front of people and discuss the importance of embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping, and ending bullying & name-calling it takes courage.  It has taken consistent courage to not respond negatively when some participants in trainings make inappropriate comments about gender non-conforming children.  It takes great courage to speak in front of audiences with no judgment though they may judge me for advocating for the inclusion, respect, and valuing of all young people regardless of their family structure, socio-economic status, race, gender expression, and all the other unique traits which make up their being.

I know the courage it takes for an elementary student to dress in the manner which most supports his gender identity -- though his peers, his teachers, or even his parents may not understand.

I know the courage it takes for an educator to put a picture of her same-sex partner on her desk in her classroom.

I know the courage it has taken me to move from being secretive to private regarding my sexual orientation.

By consistently being courageous in my personal life, it has helped me to develop greater mentoring relationships with youth from all backgrounds. Through these relationships we encourage and support each other to walk forward in this courage.

Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, for helping me to reflect on the work I do and the life I live.

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