I begin this post by acknowledging the life and the community work of the late Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom. He was a tangible example of what I teach my students about the power they have to define and transform their lives even from the most harrowing of circumstances. Although many, including myself, never had the opportunity to meet Nipsey Hussle in person, we were affected by his commitment to bettering those who would adhere to his counsel of self-improvement, community accountability, and the empowerment of marginalized people by those who come from those same communities but somehow managed to get out.
Nipsey Hussle was a former member of a gang who, instead of leaving his South Central Los Angeles community as part of his reformation and transformation, chose to stay in his neighborhood and help restore it to a place that is thriving, not impoverished. Aside from being a prolific rapper, his other accomplishments include starting his own clothing line (“Marathon”), opening and running a clothing store in his neighborhood (the store that, sadly, he was murdered in front of), and educating his community about financial literacy, health, nutrition, and wellness.
I want to write to you today about mentorship and I want to write about Nipsey Hussle, too. I’m torn thinking that the two topics are mutually exclusive; but then I stepped back and realized that for many, Nipsey Hussle was and still is a mentor. Mentoring can take on many personas, but when done well, it can yield tremendously positive results — particularly for our middle and high school students. Through his music, Nipsey Hustle was a mentor, albeit remotely. All of our students — especially those coming from high-needs neighborhoods — need mentors, preferably in person, who are committed to the long haul with them.
According to Lauren Faggella of Summit Public Schools:
Mentorship in middle and high school has the power to impact the course of students’ academic and personal life trajectories. Human connection built on trust is the glue that binds students’ academic and personal lives and helps them make sense of their futures.
As educators, mentorship is built into our varied roles in our students lives; however, we cannot be the only ones supporting them in this work. Peer mentorship is another effective form of mentoring where intentional peer-to-peer relationships help to improve relationships with students and their teachers, parents, coaches, their academics, and ultimately their community.
Peer mentorships, like the ones Nipsey Hussle modeled for us during his brief yet poignant life, allow for the building up of our students’ self-esteem, confidence, critical-thinking skills, leadership skills, academic prowess, and entrepreneurialism.
Maybe you didn’t look at Nipsey Hussle as a mentor before reading this. But he was—just like recently retired basketball player Dwyane Wade, and any Black teacher in the classroom can be. Representation matters and being in and standing out in spaces where we are not normally seen can be a form of mentorship to our young ones looking on.
That’s good, but it’s not enough. Who will pick up the mantle now that Nipsey is gone? Who will be the mentor for the slew of students who are in such need of one? Where do we go to fill this vast void? How do we respect mentorship for the pillar it is and build it into our schools and communities?
In honor of Nipsey Hussle and the rich legacy he’s left behind, we owe it to ourselves, our students and our communities to find and live out the answers.