BY KEVIN KING
I remember leaving community college and heading to Tuskegee University in the fall of 1998, and being told, for the first time, by my mother that it was more wise for me to focus on my education instead of getting a job and working while taking classes. At some point I mentioned what I had been told by my mother to an older adult at the time and they asked me about why was I so obsessed with working. They were curious to know - did most people my age and in my circle of friends back home have the same intensity and drive to maintain a consistent and quality work ethic?
They proceeded to ask where did this mentality come from and have I always thought this way... I thought for a second and it quickly dawned on me that my Uncle Shorty was the cause of this. I reflected on the time when I was eleven years old cutting his half acre of land every Saturday morning with a riding mower. This was always fun for me because I got to pretend that I was driving my own vehicle. Uncle Shorty would always put a Gatorade in the deep freezer and I looked forward to drinking it afterwards. He would give me $20 and I would always talk about how cheap he was even though I was getting paid to ride around and have fun.
I usually finished my duties around noon and my Aunt Wanda would often serve me
lunch. Many times Uncle Shorty would ask if I wanted to stop by a fast food restaurant
on the way home and excitedly I would say yes! He would graciously allow me to order
first. After ordering what I wanted no matter how expensive I would step aside for him to
order his food and pay for the both of us. After all, he’s the adult and I’m just a poor and
helpless 6th grader!
Uncle Shorty, much to my disappointment, would tell the clerk that we had separate
orders, and he would say, "Kevin you just worked and got paid so you need to pay for your own food."
After a few times of experiencing this same encounter, I began to think whether or not it
was more beneficial to spend my money on fast food or eat leftovers when I got home. I
always thought Uncle Shorty was just being a cheapskate until I grew up and realized that
I never had an issue holding a job, didn’t spend money on things I didn’t really need very
often, and I didn’t expect anything from anyone. This mindset didn’t happen by accident.
Uncle Shorty took the responsibility to intentionally teach me these life skills because he
knew the damage it would cause if I didn’t develop a work ethic, become somewhat
independent, and understand delayed versus instant gratification. If he would’ve lectured
me on these things I wouldn’t have heard him, so years of demonstrating this and
allowing me to experience this really paid off especially during tough times.
I thank him for being the mentor I needed even if I didn’t understand it at the time. I get it
now, and I’m still learning those principles that were passed along by my Uncle Shorty
who taught me a little about what it means to be a man. My uncle is one of my biggest
inspirations and a huge reason why I am so passionate about long-term mentoring.