Finding Where You Belong: Coby and Austin’s Story

Coby and Austin are a mentoring pair from iMentor Baltimore who first met in 2022 at the Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE). The duo built a solid foundation for their mentorship that allowed them to explore new options for Coby’s future that he had never considered before.

First Introduction

Austin is a Baltimore native who works in corporate philanthropy. He was first introduced to iMentor through his employer and later became a mentor for the chance to shape the next generation. Coby admits that he was very nervous about meeting Austin and initially did not have much enthusiasm about the program. Austin knew he needed to earn Coby’s trust in order to make the most of their mentorship.

“Building trust in the community is tough, but it’s a big deal,” Austin says. “[By] being extremely transparent and telling him not only the stories of triumph but also of failure – and being okay with failure – is where I think I really gained his trust. He wasn’t getting cliché talking points.”

Opening New Doors

Coby has a passion for culinary arts, and he and Austin often talk through how to turn that passion into a career. The pair worked together to submit Coby’s college applications, and he is learning about the restaurant industry in his current position as a food runner. This summer Coby will complete an internship with the Maryland Food Bank – a position he found because Austin introduced it to him.

Expanding your mentee’s network of opportunities is an essential part to setting them up for success. “Even though we’re in two different industries, I’m able to take my network and [figure] out who you need to connect with in the room to open those doors,” Austin remarks.

Nearly a year and a half into their mentorship, Austin, Coby, and the ACCE community can already see the positive effects of their connection. “Before I met Austin, I was frequently absent,” Coby says. “When I got to iMentor, I started to come more. I can talk to Austin about anything, no matter the situation, and if I don’t come to school, [then] I can’t talk to Austin.” Coby has since become an iMentor ambassador at his school, where he assists with setting up and breaking down events and talks to others about how iMentor has benefitted him.

Mentorship Through Shared Identity

Austin’s approach to mentorship goes beyond success in school or career prep – he is very intentional about sharing his experiences as a Black man and how his identity shaped his own path. “As Black professionals having to navigate corporate America, I don’t see any benefit of gatekeeping your experiences,” he explains. “It’s extremely important, especially in Baltimore, because we don’t want our youth to have to constantly start over and learn these hard life lessons the same way we did.”

Austin models for Coby how he is able to position himself in unfamiliar spaces. “With us being Black males, we can walk in the room sometimes and feel like we have to do extra to prove that we belong,” he says. “[I give] him that alternative perspective to continue to be leaders without rubbing people the wrong way. I don’t want him to lose his creativity and his passion – just to be able to share [his] ideas and feel valuable in whatever space [he’s] in.”

The two having a shared identity helps to solidify their bond. “I would want somebody that can relate to me and not relate to somebody else,” Coby says.

Paying It Forward

In his senior year, Coby has improved his grades and is well on-track to graduate. He not only made a 180-degree turn on his school engagement, but also in his attitude about having a mentor. “I wasn’t that excited about it,” Coby shares. “[Now] I love it. I aspire to be a mentor for iMentor later. Mentors can help you find your belonging in life.”

For Austin, this is the exact impact he hopes that he and other mentors will have in the community. “I really hope that it’s a ripple effect,” he says. “It was a missed opportunity [for me] in high school as a Black male. I don’t want Coby to miss those opportunities because he can take it further than I have in my career.”

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