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The Passing of a Cherished Mentor

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To mentor is to guide or to provide counsel. I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept in recent weeks while working on a paper to be delivered today at the 2013Virginia Network of Women in Higher Education’s Conference in Roanoke.

In keeping with this year’s theme, Linked In: Connecting Generations, my topic is “From Locked Out to Linked In: Mentoring (Her) Stories from the Ivory Tower.”  Therein I present the mentoring experiences of several high-achieving Virginia women in higher education.

I had not intended to include my own story, but as fate would have it, one of my closest friends and mentors, Dr. Barbara Eleanor Adams, transitioned early last week at the age of 74. She had just retired, last year, from her post as campus director of the Rosa Parks Campus of the College of New Rochelle’s (CNR) School of New Resources (SNR). Because of her love for the students, she remained in the classroom as an adjunct until her passing.

I love Barbara. We first met while we were both doctoral students at Temple University’s storied Department of African American Studies. Our paths had crossed on numerous occasions previously, including shared classes, but it was during the Temple-in-Ghana study abroad program that our lifelong friendship was forged.

For six whole weeks, that summer of 1997, we were inseparable.

From Accra to Cape Coast to Kumasi, we walked in the footsteps of our ancestors, Barbara quite literally. For while researching her Ghanaian father at the University of Legon, not only did she discover that he was a contemporary of President Kwame Nkrumah, but she later connected with her family. We were amazed at the ease with which she found them.

It was like a fairytale. We had soooooooo much fun. And that was only the beginning.

Not only did Barbara become one of my very best friends and closest confidants, but I was also blessed to have her as a mentor. Without prompting, she brought me into CNR, first as an adjunct at her beloved Rosa Parks Campus.

At first I was hesitant, but she insisted that I could handle the weekly commute from Philadelphia to Harlem. And she was right. She even opened her lovely home to me, allowing a weekly overnight stay that semester.

But her generosity did not end there. Upon my graduation from Temple, she was instrumental in my hire as a full-time instructional staff member at the Co-op City campus of SNR. Her sponsorship meant the world to me and I thank God that I was able to tell her as much, in one of our last phone calls.

And it’s not that I was so special to warrant her mentoring. That was just who Dr. Barbara Adams was. Mine is just one of many lives she brightened with her light. For she lived the mantra, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

But she was much more than my friend and mentor.

Truth be told — although Barbara was extremely youthful and younger than I, in spirit — she was old enough to be my mother. And if I could have chosen a second mother, it would have been she. And deep down, that’s how I saw her.

For she was everything one could want in a mother: loving, fun, honest, hip, supportive, nonjudgmental — and tough. Plus, she was a good listener and a wise counselor.

Suffice it to say, I could wax poetic about this very special lady for hours. As the African proverb says, on the passing of an elder: A library has burned. But thankfully for us, she left behind her many wonderful writings, including her biography of historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Master Teacher.

Hers is a legacy to be proud of.

To her children — Gyl-Maria, Wes, and Timitra — I thank you profusely for sharing your mother with me. And for welcoming me at your family gatherings, including holiday meals during the time I was a New York transplant, with no family around. I think you know that I loved your mother but what you might not know is that I love each of you, as well.

I’ll always love you, Barb. Farewell, my beautiful friend. Farewell, ’til we meet again.

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