Leading by Example--Erica Thurman

McLean County Diversity Project   c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz   PO Box 58   Downs, IL  61736

All content is © Copyright 2012 McLean County Diversity Project

"It’s not about you."

One of my mentors, Dr. Nancy Tolson, uttered those words ten years ago when I sat in her office lamenting the perils of life as a first-generation college student.

Dr. Tolson offered comfort and then quickly changed her tone so that I understood the seriousness of her words. She explained that the opportunity I had been provided was not for my benefit. Rather it was about how I could use the privilege of education to give back to my community, to pay it forward.

I still remember Dr. Tolson’s words, especially when I am overwhelmed with a multitude of tasks and someone reaches out for help. I remind myself, "It’s not about you."

We are all afforded many privileges in our lives. Volunteering is a way to say thank you to all of the people who contribute to our achievements. While there are many ways to formally volunteer through various organizations, it is imperative that we not overlook the many chances for informal volunteer opportunities.

If you are a student of color, take the opportunity to mentor a younger student of color at your local school or church. It is as simple as starting a conversation. Sometimes, the only barrier to success is having someone else say, "I understand what you’re going through. I’ve been there and you are not alone."

You are never too young to serve as a mentor. Very often, those relationships become lifelong friendships.

I have volunteered in many capacities, usually working with young girls. I am currently volunteering with the Girls Scouts of Central Illinois where I facilitate weekly sessions with a group of 9 year-old girls. Each day spent with the girls teaches me something new about life, about my community and about myself.

That’s the beauty of volunteer work. You show up to help someone else and they end up helping you much more.

Volunteering will always be a part of whom I am.

I am deeply indebted to the many people who contributed to my own achievements and the best way to say thank you to them is to pay it forward.

- Erica Thurman
Community Volunteer,
McLean County Diveristy Project Trainer and Team Chaperone