Why I Mentor Youth

J. Michael Salley |

I don’t spend all my time talking with clients about their finances. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but there are other sides to my life. I’m an active member of my church. I love to get out there on my bicycle on the weekends. And I mentor boys through a local non-profit, the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, here in Summerville, South Carolina.


Let’s say it’s my way of passing on a little of what was so generously given to me.

I grew up in a very tough neighborhood in New York City, in a single-parent home. I lost my mom when I was only nine years old. I thank God for my father every day because he raised all eight of us by himself. He never remarried, he just took care of us until we were grown. He basically kept us all on the right path. Anytime we wandered off that path, there was a price to pay. I didn’t always like that at the time, but I’m older now, and a lot wiser, and I see the value in it. I always look to the example my father gave us as a strong and committed family man. For me, it’s God, you know, Jesus, and then there’s my dad. That’s how I feel.

All too often, when you look at a working class or inner-city environment, there's a great degree of hopelessness, insecurity, and lack of faith. I saw all of that. At home, there was just a ton of love, intelligence, drive, motivation, dreams, and all those things that I think God has blessed all of us with. But around us there were challenges. As a young teenager, I looked around and I saw how my peers were living, and I knew I wanted more than that.

I wanted to become a lawyer. My good grades got me to college, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get to law school. I knew I was going to try. Then a friend told me about a program Merrill Lynch had to find minority and female candidates to train for professional positions in the firm. I was selected for the program and subsequently hired to become a financial advisor. I had a love for the business from day one. I hung out with the older guys in the firm and soaked up everything they did.

Every step of the way, other people have held me up, guided me, and helped me, from my dad, to my instructors, to my first supervisor and my more experienced colleagues at Merrill Lynch. I decided I wanted to succeed, and I worked hard to make the most of the opportunities I was given, but without those opportunities and that support, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.

God has been good to me. I’ve come to understand that even growing up in the tough and sometimes violent neighborhood that I did, may have been a blessing. Maybe my dreams wouldn’t have been as big if I had come from someplace easier. So, I want my life, my actions, to say to God, look, You’ve been good to me. How do I go about doing work that's pleasing to You?

Mentoring is part of all that. If boys are struggling, maybe I can help them turn their lives around. Even if a boy comes from a great family, with both mom and dad together in the home, raising the kids, guidance from another adult, some extra love, will help ensure that he turns into a productive young man. And that's what it's about. We're building men because our society has cut down young men of certain ethnic demographics. The doors have been closed to several pockets of our society. It’s our job to come together as a community and open those doors back up.

That’s just part what it means to me to be a Christian man. And while Dad has been gone many years now, it’s part of what I still do to make him proud of me.