|Patti Austin and her mentee Santana Roberts at the Over My Shoulder event last week. (Leise Jones Smyrl photo)
Grammy award-winning singer Patti Austin’s life has been filled with mentors and now she wants to give back by making a difference in the lives of young people.
“Mentoring is what we’re supposed to do,” Austin said. “It’s what we should be doing.”
She and singer Dawn Carroll co-founded the “Over My Shoulder” foundation, a unique media-based project whose goal is to raise awareness of the impact of mentoring both cross-culturally and cross-generationally.
Last week, the foundation hosted an event at the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams store in the Back Bay for National Mentoring month. Awards were presented to design mentors who’ve significantly impacted the lives of their mentees and Austin — best known for her hits “Baby Come to Me” and “Do You Love Me/The Genie” — presented a $10k check to mentee Santana Roberts, a new Berklee student. Teary eyed and emotional, Roberts told the crowd that her relationship with Austin started with an e-mail sent through her fan site asking for sheet music. Shortly thereafter, Roberts was on her way to New York to spend a weekend with Austin.
“My first mentors were my parents,” Austin said. “That’s where mentoring begins. My dad — who was a jazz musician — was my mentor musically. My mom was my emotional mentor. They set the stage. They helped me accept and receive mentoring. I was raised with the mentality that someone wants to help you! Later my godfather Quincy Jones was a mentor and my manager Barry Orms is a spiritual and emotional mentor.”
She’s gotten great advice from many important figures in her life and now Austin wants to do the same for others through Over My Shoulder.
“Everybody in this organization is so busy!” Austin exclaimed. “It’s like when Obama gave the State of the Union Address and seemed surprised by his own accomplishments. We’re starting to take off. It’s a great time for us.”
Though Austin is in the middle of a global tour, it was important for her to show up and support the work of the mentors and mentees of the organization.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “If there’s someone around who is younger or has less experience than you have, then it’s your responsibility to help them, to share information. It’s fascinating and nourishing to the soul to watch a child bloom before your eyes.”
To demonstrate the power of mentoring, Rick Dyer — a former heroin addict turned lawyer — talked about his journey from the streets to the courtroom. He acknowledged that the people who took an interest in him and helped him along the way, saved his life. His lowest point came in prison after a visit from his mother. Dyer told her that he was hopeless and helpless. His mother told him to borrow her hope.
“That’s one of the most powerful things anyone has ever said to me,” shared Dyer.
After the awards and check presentation, partygoers mingled and munched on appetizers while Austin made her way around the room. Before her exit, she sang “This Little Light Of Mine” acapella, a perfect compliment to the stories shared throughout the evening.
“You don’t always have the capacity to help hundreds of thousands of people at a time,” Austin said. “If you can help one person, you’re doing something for the universe.”