Matilda Cuomo Authors New Book
Without the influence of Martha Mullins, Jane Murray and Carol Locke, it’s a fairly safe bet that I wouldn’t have pursued a career in journalism.
These three women were some of my teachers at the Berkeley Carroll Street school in Park Slope (formerly known in my day, the 1960s and early 70s, as the Berkeley Institute), and ultimately had more to do with my career choice than any of my Barnard College professors or Columbia Graduate School of Journalism instructors. Mrs. Mullins was the enthusiastic fourth grade teacher who fussed over my creative writing attempts. Mrs. Locke was the fifth grade teacher who urged me to try my hand at journalistic efforts. She also introduced me to Carol Locke, the high school English teacher and school newspaper adviser who allowed me to write for the paper as a lowly seventh grader, ultimately elevating me to the position of editor-in-chief as a junior.
Such is the heady power of mentors. And the importance of mentors as a possible solution to the plight of inner-city urban students has lately been embraced by all sorts of experts and advocates who have sought to match children and teenagers with helpful adults.
So the timing couldn’t be better for this book, authored by Matilda Raffa Cuomo, the wife of former New York State governor, Mario Cuomo, and head in her own right of the non-profit organization, “Mentoring USA.” The program is a school-based and community site-based mentoring program, whose volunteers are screened and expected to make a commitment of at least four hours a month to one child for a year. One initiative is an off-shoot program, Mentoring USA Foster Care Initiative, which specifically targets at-risk youngsters in foster care.
The book is essentially comprised of anecdotal essays from a range of celebrities, public figures and business executives, describing a significant mentor in his or her life. Not surprisingly, teachers and parents—and sometimes coaches—are cited most frequently. In a refreshing change from the networking/mentoring books that often appear in the self-help or business press, the mentor/mentee relationships profiled here come across as ultimately purer and less manipulative.
Many of the entries are strong and offer poignant testimony to the power of an encouraging adult who sometimes does little more than convince a child that her dreams are possible.
So Walter Cronkite credits his high school journalism teacher, Fred Birney, with jump-starting his illustrious career. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, cites her Spelman College history professor, Howard Zinn, for the way in which he “responded to a yearning in the younger generation to make a difference.” The late Stephen Jay Gould, the biologist, believed that the influence of his fifth grade teacher, Esther Ponti (P.S. 26 in Queens), with whom he shared a correspondence for more than 30 years, was instrumental in determining his career: “she really strove to foster children’s interests and creativity. Although she didn’t particularly know much about science, she wanted to make it more available to those who showed an interest in it...You can’t stop self-starters.” And James Brady expressed it especially eloquently, when he described his late mother, Dorothy’s, enduring lesson as his mentor:
“Our time on earth can go two ways: it can be like putting your hand in a bucket of water or leaving a solid impression...I’ve always tried to make an impression, for which I credit my parents.”
I was lucky to have had three encouraging mentors at a relatively young age. Would that all children could have at least one adult who serves in that role #
Who Mentored You? The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent People Recall Their Mentors by Matilda Raffa Cuomo (Barnes and Noble Books: New York, 2002–212 pp)