How Being a Mentor Helped Me Join a Movement
By Giulianna Sutkiewicz
Pivotal social movements in history are often associated with radical action. Long, complicated struggles are condensed into a token event for future generations to point to as “the moment change happened.” Throughout America’s fight for equal rights and representation, there have been many instances of this — dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, convening in Seneca Falls, marching over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The Women’s March in Washington, DC and the sister marches that happened around the world this weekend were massive undertakings that represent the power of women coming together to support one another. Demonstrations like these are needed to create awareness and ignite change, but they are also reminders of the work to come. No good movement consists solely of singular events, but instead requires countless hours, energy, and people willing to join for the long-haul. Sometimes, even the most important causes can feel slow to action.
When I think back to my time in Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE), the weekly sessions spent with the mentees didn’t feel revolutionary. We were usually just hanging out. Sometimes we danced and sometimes we cried. We talked about loss, how gross guys are after gym class, what it feels like to be silenced, and what it feels like to be empowered.
Being a mentor was nothing like I expected. As much as I loved it, at times it was challenging. I didn’t save anyone from making a devastating life decision, or drastically change the conversation surrounding sexual assault. I learned that being a mentor is not about being a savior. It’s not fast results, and it’s not always exciting.
But being part of WYSE was radical. It changed the way I treated other women, the way I treated myself. It taught me that being a role model isn’t a part time job and that role models can also make mistakes. It taught me that in a society that treats young women of color like they are invisible, creating a space for visibility is important, even if it’s a small one.
WYSE is not one mentor, one mentee, or one city. It is made up of ordinary moments that happen every week all around the country. It is moments unseen. It is my mentee graduating high school. It is a parent, relieved to have found an ally. It is a conversation about the way we value each other. All those moments collectively make up what is the vision of WYSE: “a world in which all women are empowered to determine their future and effect change.”
My last WYSE session this past May was not Seneca Falls. I did not march nor did I protest. Instead, I watched a group of girls come together to support each other, and it was revolutionary.
Giulianna is a former WYSE mentor from Marquette University. She spent four years with the organization mentoring girls in Milwaukee’s north side.