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Confidence, humility key to mentoring relationships

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson
  • Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command

The Air Force Materiel Command held its first Cross-Cultural Mentoring Panel for 2024, Feb. 6, in conjunction with Black History Month.

The theme for the event was “Black African American Excellence and Resilience – Making Our Way.” Speakers focused on how mentoring can be beneficial to anyone and encouraged all AFMC airmen to actively pursue and engage in a wide array of mentoring relationships.

Host for the panel was Anna Morris, a member of the Senior Executive Service, and Director of Contacting, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base. She is also the Major Command Barrier Analysis Working Group Champion of the Black Employment Strategy Team.

Morris was joined by:

  • Hans Augustus, Director of Business Operations, 633rd Contracting Squadron, Joint Base Langley/Eustis
  • Lt. Col. Shayla Canty Smith, Commander, 18th Contracting Squadron, Kadena AB, Okinawa
  • Dr. Keith Hardiman, Director, Air Force Information Management, Pentagon
  • Kameke Mitchell, Chief of Contracts, Commercial Space Office, Space Systems Command
  • Tonia Rayford, Senior Social Worker, Behavioral Health Interdisciplinary Program
  • Meredith Harper, Chief Information Security Officer, Synchrony Financial

Jacquelynn Coles, Program Manager for the Kuwait Air Operations Center, Hanscom AFB, Mass[MA1] ., served as the moderator for the program.

“Our goal in this session is to impart some wisdom, tips and strategies for navigating both personal and professional journeys,” said Morris.

Some of the questions centered on how to find a mentor and how to identify the right person for each individual.

“You don’t want a mentor that is just like you,” said Augustus. “Someone that has a diverse background from you and has seen things from a difference perspective might have more to offer to you.”

They stressed that Black employees might find barriers, but there are no insurmountable hurdles and always a path forward. Hearing stories from how others have succeeded helps others get beyond their own barriers.

“Challenges strengthen a person,” said Augustus. “Understand that past, but let’s put those strengths gained from any life challenges to work.”

The best mentoring relationships require investment of time and energy.

“Be intentional in your relationships and your goals,” said Hardiman. “Make sure you have short term, mid-term and long-term goals in mind before you interact with a prospective mentor.”

Harper says she found mentors by listening. When she heard the same names mentioned repeatedly on projects, she knew that they had figured out something about the organization that she didn’t know, and that she needed to go talk to them.

“I decided to be bold and approach those people with questions,” said Harper. “I didn’t want to wait for the right person to drop into my lap.”

Morris added to that by saying, “I think it’s important to be able to represent yourself well and professionally but do it assertively and not aggressively.”

The panelists highlighted the importance of mentoring for individuals at all levels of their career as well as the need for mentorship in one’s personal life.

AFMC Cross-Cultural Mentoring sessions began in 2022 and, due to their positive reception, are continuing in 2024. The next session will be held in March for Women’s History Month.

The goal of the mentoring sessions is to create an inclusive culture where all people feel comfortable in conversations around demographic diversity. They also aim to eliminate barriers Airmen and Guardians may face when searching for, and benefiting from, a mentor.

To watch the Black History Month panel, visit: