An Extension of Sisterhood
The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority is an organization that promotes sisterhood amongst its members. However, the University of Georgia Eta Xi chapter of the sorority decided to extend this sisterhood to young women who are in need of positive guidance through their Exquisite mentorship program.
Taylor McClain, 16 year-old student at Clarke Central High, is one of the young women who are in need of this positivity. Fussing and negativity inhabits the halls of the home McClain is raised in, so at home she is used to rolling her eyes, stomping her feet, and exhaling dramatically to express her lack of patience.
Her attitude isn’t always this way, though. Her breaths are rarely sarcastic and deep when she is with her Exquisite mentor, Brittany Hall. McClain said that the mentorship gives her room to breathe.
“The mentor program just gives me a new environment, a positive environment,” McClain says. “My whole attitude changes.”
She is only one of the two dozen Athens-Clarke County girls that the Exquisite mentor program serves. Through this mentorship, the women provide sisterhood to young African American girls of Clarke County High Schools.
Hoping to inspire along the way, the ladies designed Exquisite to serve as role models for high school girls who attend both Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals High Schools. The mentors encourage the young ladies to strive for excellence through friendship, knowledge, leadership and service while promoting high scholastic achievement.
The motto of the Exquisite program is “searching for excellence.” Potential members submit applications through their guidance counselors and are selected based on specific criteria. Meetings are held bi-monthly to discuss topics such as etiquette, interview protocol, and other valuable skills. Additionally, the mentees must maintain a 2.5 GPA and pay yearly dues.
Hall, a senior at UGA from Moultrie and McClain’s mentor, says that the program gives her a chance to offer sisterhood and support.
“Personally, I was inspired to participate in Exquisite because growing up as a young black woman in a low-income community, I was not privileged enough to be exposed to many positive young role models who looked like me,” Hall says. “Exquisite allows me to give that to someone else.”
This transfer of compassion is something that lives deep within the foundation of the mentorship. The women pair with young students on a one-to-one ratio. This link and culture tie resultantly create an underlying connection for the mentors and makes them feel that they are inspirational.
They are something similar to the “Talented Tenth” W.E.B. Du Bois referred to in his arguments of the advancement of African American. This tenth refers to the small group of African Americans that will serve as inspiration and leaders to push the entire African American community to succeed.
“The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide,” Dubois stated in a 1903 address.
The ladies of the Exquisite mentor program are attempting to serve as this ten percent that will uplift the rest of their race. Hall’s strategy to guide her own mentee is by gaining her trust through the similarities they have.
Hall grew up in the impoverished town of Moultrie, Georgia. She witnessed lower expectations in school and suffered from a lack of opportunities. Thus, she can tend to Taylor’s similar needs because she has shared the same feelings.
“I believe in the power of sympathy, but I know it’s something stronger than that. And my feeling, like the understanding I have for my mentee, is of no imagination or sympathy,” Hall says. “Instead, my understanding is born of pure empathy.”
This compassion is considered the true gift of the mentorship program. Director of Clarke County Mentor Program Paula Shilton confirmed the value of understanding, saying that she found the sorority’s mentoring mission to be relevant and necessary.
“I just think it’s great for these students at Clarke Central to see these strong African-American women college students and get the chance to talk to them and find out what their experience has been and what they need to do to get to college,” Shilton says.
“They (mentees) can say, ‘They’re doing it, I can do it too. They’re here encouraging me. They care enough to come and meet with me every week and help me alone,’” she says.
Shilton defines Brittany Hall and each volunteer mentor as “another interested adult in a child’s life.” She sums up the role as a special friend who listens and encourages.
When McClain was asked if Hall was that interested adult that encouraged her she explained that she has never had anyone push her as hard as Hall does, a factor that she labels helpful because it helps her expand her goals and potential.
“Britt made me really feel like I can do anything I want to if I actually take steps to getting there,” McClain said.
The next time McClain and Hall were together was at a yoga class. This time there were no signs of McClain’s breaths of irritation. Only dramatic exhales escaped as she laughed with her mentor. The two looked like friends, sisters even.
After their class, the two were asked the one lesson they planned on attaining from their experience as a mentee and mentor.
Hall responded by telling the one thing she didn’t plan on gaining—mutuality.
She says laughing, “Taylor [gives] me as much insight for life as I give to her. Sometimes I even find myself wondering . . . is she the mentor or am I.”