This article was featured in RBJ’s Path to Excellence magazine published June 22, 2018.
LaShay Harris has had a desire to give back since she was a teenager studying cosmetology.
“I had two hair stylist mentors. These two women poured so much into me that every weekend they had my attention,” says Harris, who now serves as manager of business development/public information officer for American Medical Response. “The result is who I am today. Imagine if I could do the same for a few young women, or even men, and see if I can help them become better citizens or become better at whatever they’re doing.”
Harris, who also represents the 27th District in the Monroe County Legislature and is an active member of the 19th Ward Community Association, says that while she always intended to be a mentor, that relationship must be built organically.
“In my opinion, those are the best relationships,” Harris says. “If you try to force it I think the results aren’t there. It should be natural.”
Roughly six years ago Harris met Moiet James when their paths crossed in the 19th Ward.
“I met her through my grandfather because he’s an active member of the 19th Ward Community Association and very active in the political and the social atmosphere in Rochester,” says James, who works in development for WXXI Public Broadcasting System.
When James took her grandfather’s place on the Square Fair committee for the 19th ward, she was unsure of how to approach her role in the nonprofit organization, particularly because she was the youngest active member of the group. Harris helped her with that, she says.
“She definitely helped me ease into my role in being on the committee,” 24-year-old James recalls. “She’s helped me take on any criticism and take it as learning experiences.”
And Harris helped James when she was struggling to decide whether to travel to China to teach English or go to graduate school, both women say.
“She helped me with that decision, saying you should take advantage of any opportunity to see the world because school will always be here,” James says. “She was pushing for me to go the distance and see as much as I possibly can see and bring anything I learned back home and help grow our city.”
And while James stayed in Rochester, she says her budding mentee/mentor relationship helped open her eyes to the myriad possibilities for personal and professional growth. When James graduated from college, Harris advised her to get involved with some of the professional organizations Rochester has to offer in order to help her navigate through her professional career.
“Sometimes aligning yourself with some of the professional organizations can help you achieve what you want professionally and hone in on some skills you may not be able to hone in on in the workplace,” Harris says.
Most recently, James was appointed as vice president of digital media and branding for the Rochester Association of Black Journalists, of which Harris is a board member.
“She gave me the necessary advice that I needed in this new leadership role in this organization, as far as who to connect with as I grow in this organization I just joined,” James says.
Harris says when she met James, the younger woman reminded her of herself.
“Outgoing, outspoken, just wanted to get out there and conquer the world. She’s not afraid to try something new,” Harris says. “So this would be a great opportunity for me to give her some pearls of wisdom here and there. I didn’t even expect it to turn out to be a formal mentorship or that we’d have a long relationship doing multiple events together, so it ended up blossoming on its own.
“The good news is, she knows I support her and it’s unconditional,” Harris adds. “The unconditional part is what’s most important.”
Harris has mentored a number of teenagers and young adults, she says, and was able to help one young woman apply for and win a scholarship to Rochester Institute of Technology. Harris herself gave up a full scholarship when she was young out of fear. If mentoring helps others overcome their own fears, she is all for it, she says.
“The biggest issue I see in young women is you have fears and sometimes your family is not able to help you push through,” Harris says. “The mentorship, especially if it’s natural, can be of huge assistance to help someone navigate through making choices. And some of these choices are very critical.”
James calls Harris a community activist, a diverse woman who wants to help others succeed.
“It’s hard to come by someone who can really jump in any field or area and be able to succeed,” James says. “And that shows the strength and patience and grace that she has.”
James says it is vital for women today to look for that person or persons from whom they can learn the ropes and succeed professionally.
“You don’t need to have just one mentor, you can learn from a wide variety of people, and that’s what you want to do and that’s what your mentor is going to expect you to do,” James says.
Adds Harris: “You’re giving information and advisement—sort of like a big brother or big sister—to someone as a mentor, and as a result they give you their gratitude, as well as their performance and their achievements. That’s the results you want.”
And it’s not just youth who need mentors. Harris says women throughout their lifetimes can benefit from that sort of relationship.
“That mentorship relationship can affect adults returning to the workplace or adults entering a new field after they’ve left another field,” Harris explains. “It’s important to lend a hand, reach back to somebody. It doesn’t always have to be a young person.”
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