By: Patrick B. Reyes
March 16, 2021
The Forum for Theological Exploration’s family reunion is something not to be missed. It brings together generations of scholars who were mentored into and through our family networks. It takes place at conferences, on campuses, on Sundays, over coffee, and online. The FTE family reunion has a long history, one steeped in the sacred relationship known as mentoring. For more than 50 years, FTE has been supporting scholars of color. The historic fellowship program, launched by then-director the Rev. Dr. Charles Shelby Rooks and board member Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, has financially supported scholars of color consistently since 1968. However, the funds provided to FTE Fellows, while necessary given the challenge of doctoral theological and religious education, is, by itself, insufficient to entirely support the mind, body, and soul of those in the network.
Mentorship is a staple of the academy. At FTE, mentorship has a different flavor. The hues that color FTE’s mentoring practice bring light to the darkest hallways in the academy. We help create space for shared moments and for the fragrance of shared meals, where the whispers of the pains and joys of this journey are shared as only a family can.
When we gather, the loudest silence can be heard across the vast divide of conference center rooms, as mentors exchange a head nod, eyebrow raise, or the occasional eye roll as ideas are shaped. Then there is that moment when a newly minted PhD feels the weight of the doctoral hood being placed on their shoulders by the mentor. The weight is much more than a journey complete. It is a recognition of shared struggle, the hopes and dreams of a community, and the passing on of the responsibility “to go and do likewise.”
The mentoring relationship that FTE is committed to is not just the cultivation of the emerging scholar.
FTE sees mentoring as an important part of caring for and building the capacity of the village. Where traditional academic mentoring takes place between a mentee and a single mentor—one who is usually much older and further along in their vocational journey—FTE has emphasized that the mentoring is the responsibility of the community.
FTE believes that it takes a village. This community of mentors has shared values. These values guide FTE in our work supporting, retaining, and building the capacity of the next generation of academic leaders. It shapes our invitations to mentor, it defines who to celebrate with our annual mentoring award, and it focuses what practices to highlight. It helps FTE hold the community accountable to the purpose of mentoring: thriving mentees.
As you will see in these essays, good mentorship requires incredible self-awareness from mentors—a self-awareness that it takes the entire community to see a mentee into their flourishing.
The invitation to mentor from FTE is more akin to being invited to accompany someone at a family reunion for the first time. As you walk our new family member through the reunion, you have the honor and privilege to introduce the mentee to the family. You can help them navigate who makes the best food, when to eat (because you know your cousins are hungry), and how to help out. They can introduce you to the family members you need to know, and help you stay away from the troublemakers. These mentors throw horseshoes with you and make sure you get what you need. They tell you where they will be and to “come by the house sometime.” After they make sure you have a plate of food, and you know where everything is, they let you spend time with other elders, new friends, and find your own way at the fiesta.
Mentees who are mentored towards community are connected with a family who feed, nurture, guide, cry, and celebrate together. They know who and when to call on for mentorship. They show up for their appointments. A good mentee is not only taken care of by the family, but they look out for those who are coming behind. They mentor a new crop of family members, showing them how to navigate this world. And, as we have seen in just the last few years, great mentees show up for and care for our elders, our mentors. Mentees respect and honor their work and legacies. Mentees call mentors up to see how they are doing, to check-in. Not to seek advice or counsel, though those things are important. But as any good mentee knows, that relationship with the mentor needs to be cultivated, nurtured, and honored. As you will read from the essays in this publication, a good mentoring relationship is not something to take for granted. It is a blessing. It is something to be celebrated.
So welcome to an FTE family reunion of sorts. The essays compiled by our partners here celebrate the diverse narratives of scholars of color and their experiences with mentors. The hope is that from these narratives you glean insight into the conversations at the family cookout, learn how to participate in a way that brings life to the party, and at the end of the day, care for the family as so many generations have before. Welcome.