“Mentors who provide unconditional belonging allow you to break down walls and open up like never before, so that’s what I try to bring every day.”
I grew up in Harlem, and I experienced the criminal justice system firsthand. I wish I had a mentor who I could relate to when I was younger or when I was leaving the justice system. I am where I am today despite not having that support, but it should be available to everyone.
I actually started mentoring in prison. As people I knew got close to leaving, I saw how difficult it was for them to get a job and a stable place to stay. I helped them with paperwork, job applications, and things like that. When I was released at age 26, I had honed my skills and relationships and was able to find work within a few days. I loved the feeling of helping others and wanted to continue sharing my experiences as lessons, so I decided to join CV as a mentor.
I was definitely nervous about being a role model to others outside of prison. But I soon realized that Harlem is home, and relating to my mentees was mostly about being my authentic self. I feel like my shared background with my mentees creates the opportunity for deeper levels of trust and discussion. They know that I’ve been where they are, and so they want to hear what I have to say.
I try to help provide a “fast forward” look into how their actions could lead to great rewards or harsh ramifications. This helps my youth through their rebellious phases and come out stronger on the other side. The thing that impacts me the most is seeing young people embrace vulnerability. When we take our youth out of adverse environments, they become big kids. I believe we help them remove that mask and create a safe space for them to be themselves. Mentors who provide unconditional belonging allow you to break down walls and open up like never before, so that’s what I try to bring every day.
In addition to mentoring in my community, I am a research assistant investigating the impact of Credible Messengers across NYC, and a lead employment training specialist working to help match young people with job opportunities. My life experiences have led me to this point, and I feel grateful to be able to give back.
Davon is a mentor in the Next S.T.E.P.S. (Striving Towards Empowerment and Peaceful Solutions) program, part of CV’s Transformative Mentoring Division, where he works with young people previously in the juvenile justice system to strengthen skills like decision making, coping with stress, building healthy relationships, and more.