Alexander stresses partnerships, engagement at Mentoring Institute

Ramon Alexander believes in the power of partnerships.

The founder of Distinguished Young Gentleman of America, Inc. and a newly elected representative to the Florida House, Alexander was on Florida State's campus Friday to address the 5th Annual Mentoring Institute, hosted by the Center for Leadership & Social Change.

Ramon Alexander addresses the 5th Annual Mentoring Institute on Dec. 9, 2016.
Ramon Alexander addresses the 5th Annual Mentoring Institute on
Dec. 9, 2016.

“It’s impossible to be everything to everybody,” Alexander told those gathered for his keynote.
Alexander cautioned folks in the youth services industry not to try to do everything themselves and therefore wind up in a position where they have so much overhead they can’t grow to new levels.

“We are able to maximize and build out a robust, comprehensive program that is measurable because of those partnerships and our ability to break down silos and interact with other people,” Alexander said of his experience building Distinguished Young Gentlemen, which serves young men in Gadsden, Leon and Jefferson counties.

The daylong institute, with a theme of “Mentoring and Social Change: Identity, Influence and the Dynamics of Difference,” was aimed at creating a space where attendees, including mentors and mentees from campus and the community, can identify needs, consider best practices, discuss challenges, share experiences, and strengthen collaborative connections between the campus and the community.

The institute also featured a roundtable discussion and two concurrent sessions with workshops presented by both mentors and students exploring such topics as community mentoring and reducing the barriers to success, negotiating core beliefs in a mentoring relationship, and looking at the role of sponsorship over mentorship. It was presented free of charge thanks to a partnership with FSU Campus Recreation and Tallahassee’s Office of the Mayor and City Commission.

During his keynote, Alexander attributed much of his organization’s success on its commitment to meeting their students where they are, and engaging them in fun and meaningful programs. He strongly encouraged other youth services organizations to invest in peer-to-peer engagement.

“We base our determinations and our outcomes on the impact that our young men make in the community,” he said. That includes working in middle schools and elementary schools and serving as peer mentors.

“There’s a crisis of leadership in our community,” Alexander said. “And we believe, our philosophy is there’s no such thing as a natural born leader. Leadership is an acquired skill."

Because of that, he said, Distinguished Young Gentlemen teaches its students to take initiative, follow up and follow through in all aspects of the organization, from local chapters to the step team.

In addition to the rewards, Alexander understands that working with young people can be difficult at times.

"I know that many of you are in the trenches, and it gets lonely sometimes,” he said.

Sometimes, he added, it can be hard not to second-guess the sacrifices one makes in this work when one fails to help a young person.

“I’ve come to the realization that, no, we can’t save everybody,” he told the audience. “But we can doggone save somebody.”