When you see the powerful impact Rwenshaun Miller has on young people that he mentors, you see lives that he’s helped transform. Every day, Miller is determined to become what he calls the person he needed when he was younger.
“I needed a male figure to tell me that it’s OK to hurt, it’s OK to show emotion and it’s OK to cry,” Miller said.
Miller is a successful entrepreneur who earned a master's degree in counseling, founded a nonprofit, Eustress Inc. and has authored a book.
Eustress Inc. was born out of his desire to bring awareness to the importance of acknowledging, improving and preserving mental health. It’s a topic, Miller said, that is often marked by stigma and denial, particularly in the black community.
"A lot of our kids are closeted; they don't share, and one reason is because no one really asks," Miller said.
Miller said that a critical piece of mentoring is to develop an emotional bond with the mentee, providing support and life-navigation to help them succeed. He said that mentors should believe in the mentee’s ability to grow and develop.
He shares his skills and expertise, usually in a T-shirt and sneakers, trying to relate to the young men.
“I share parts of me. I’ve dealt with children who have their friends being murdered in front of them; some kids may want to take their lives,” Miller said.
It's his way to help influence the current culture of mental health and ensure that young people are being heard and valued.
Research is conclusive that mentoring is beneficial to marginalized teens. A North Carolina State University study shows that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college when they have a mentor.
Miller said that the most important role of a mentor is to support and encourage young people, particularly as they struggle to overcome obstacles and solve problems.
“Young people can tell the difference between people who are interested in them and those who are just playing a role,” Miller said.
Miller lives by the motto, "be who you needed when you were younger."
He said that he did not have certain things he needed as a young black man and that void led to some ups and downs in his life.
“Some of those things I hope no one has to experience,” Miller said. “Without the right guidance and interventions, they may be inevitable.”
A University of Georgia study of African-American shows the importance of mentors for teens with hardships. It shows that young people who had experienced discrimination, family stress and abuse are much less likely to engage in negative activity if they have a positive mentoring relationship.
“A good mentor cannot only teach, but also learn from those that they are serving,” Miller said. “An important aspect of mentorship is meeting the mentee where they are, literally and figuratively, and adhering to the needs of the mentee and not what we think they need.”
It’s the extra step and noble give-back that makes Miller standout in many ways.
Last year, he began volunteering his time to counsel middle school students at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. Throughout his sessions, the school administration documented an increase in the boys’ grades, attendance and fewer demerits.
Another important element Miller sees is helping the whole family and looking at the dynamics that can foster a greater support for the family, which will have a direct impact on the child.
"It is important to take care of the entire family unit," Miller said. "Every family is different, so you have to understand the family background to help a child."
He continues to work with the group of seven from last year and has taken on another group of seven children this year. All of this is done on Miller’s own time.
“I have teachers approach me saying since (Miller) has been seeing this person, he is more vocal in class. He is more respectful in the hall,” said Corey Gaines, a behavioral modification technician at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. “So, I need about 50 more Shauns.”
A mentor-mentee relationship doesn’t have to be complex. For Miller, a mentor invests in others by giving their time, energy and resources to help someone else reach their potential and obtain their goals.
“A mentor is not limited by their age, gender or social status,” Miller said. “Anyone can serve others by being a mentor.”
More importantly, honesty is the core for the relationships Miller builds with his mentees.
“I think my mentees benefit from me being open about the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of my life and the lessons I learned from it,” Miller said. “I let them know that I am far from perfect and continue to learn new things every day.”
Constantly giving back to his community, Miller’s humble demeanor and focused mission can’t be understated. As he learns, he teaches, and he challenges his mentees to teach him. His mentees agree that this two-way street is definitely a path better traveled with Miller alongside.
A valuable resource in Charlotte for the mentoring community is the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance. The alliance educates mentoring organizations about best practices and mentoring standards, ignites impactful and enduring mentor-mentee relationships and connects Charlotte’s mentoring community.
The Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance is asking for nominations for deserving individuals or organizations that have made a difference in the lives of Charlotte children and youth through a commitment to mentoring.
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