More than a Mentor

Ms. Alba and Kaylen

by Kamal Badhey

In 2016-2017 I had the privilege of spending a year as Lewis Hine Fellow with Friends of the Children of New York. Friends provides twelve and one-half years of professional mentorship for a select group of Harlem and South Bronx children at the highest risk of continuing the cycle of poverty in their lives.

My own journey as a public-school teacher turned photographer has allowed me to see how young people yearn to be seen, and also to be listened to. Mentors at Friends of the Children of New York not only see youth, but are there to listen and to advise, to participate fully in their worlds. At Friends, as I watched mentors and children interact, I came to realize that the depth – as well as the breadth of a relationship – can create long-term change in a young person’s life. So as a Hine Fellow, I decided to try to photograph the mentors’ relationships with children, to see if my images could hint at the bond between the mentors and the youth they work with.  I followed eighteen different mentors through at least one or more days in their working lives with youth and tried to show the range of emotions, interactions, and activities that unfolded.

Each mentor brings their own personality, interests, and structure to the job.  Some of them are deeply interested in sports, social justice, arts, and writing.  The mentors are documentarians themselves, carefully listening to the needs, interests, and stories of the children they work with. From the images, I hope you gather the labor involved in human service work and
the skill required to truly care and be there for another human through tears and laughter. I hope you see how mentors support youth through their struggles, connect with their families, and help them manifest their dreams.