My recent post on role models highlighted one of my “larger than life” heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I made only a slight reference to the person who introduced me to Dietrich, and who essentially, is the one that moved me down my professional path.
I have dozens of examples as to why I was so influenced by this person. Looking back now, I am not surprised that I have been in leadership roles beginning at a “young” age in both my personal and professional lives. Two brief examples will illustrate his amazing impact.
GET THAT GUN OUT OF MY FACE
Growing up as a boy in Scranton, Pennsylvania during the early 1970s was a turbulent time. The radical 1960s had come to a close, Vietnam was out of control, and racial injustice was alive and well. Always an advocate for those in need, he was approached by a man who was desperately searching for housing. This man had found an apartment, but the landlord was apparently unwilling to rent to him. The landlord was white, and the man in need was black.
Undeterred, my mentor went with the man to confront the landlord. When the two of them arrived and knocked on the landlord’s door, and clarified who they were and why there were there, a threat with a hand gun was the response.
Now most folks would accept that perhaps it was time to leave, but not in this case. Viewing this as an opportunity to move social justice forward, my mentor began a dialogue with the landlord. The threat of violence dissipated, and a breakthrough of sorts was achieved. The black man had his apartment.
OUR COMMUNITY IS COMING APART
Two decades later my mentor was working in a new community that saw racial tensions at their highest level in years. Every weekend was a recipe for disaster as clashes between the black community and police became all too commonplace. Following a particularly dangerous weekend, it was time for action.
He called for a series of retreats between the two sides. Facilitated at a beautiful lodge on a lake thirty minutes outside the city, he helped the two parties make incredible progress. The volcano that was ready to erupt quieted once more, and both sides came away with a new found respect and understanding for each other. The result? My mentor received the New York State Bar Association’s Humanitarian of the Year Award for his leadership.
Mentors create not only an example, but energy as well. Their impact can move us in such a profound way that you have no choice but to learn from them. For me, I would simply like to thank my mentor for being such a source of inspiration and driving force in my life.
Thank you Dad.