Black History Month: Conversations about Mentorship with Local Community Leaders

For Black History Month, Cornerstones of Care asked several Black community leaders in child advocacy to reflect on the idea of mentorship and to share about the role of important individuals in their development as a leader.

Our next conversation is with Montel Evans.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Montel Evans is a dynamic leader and educator and the principal at Thomas Hart Benton Elementary in the Independence School District. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with degrees in psychology and sociology and Graceland University with a degree in elementary education. In 2018, he earned his Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Missouri. Montel is also a board member of the Eastern Jackson County Boys & Girls Club.


Is mentorship particularly important for young people of color? If so, how?

Yes. Through mentorship, young people of color are able to live out the true purpose of “Sankofa” – the idea that we can build a prosperous future by learning from the past. 

Our youth can grow to navigate situations and spaces their predecessors have already encountered. It prepares them with the ability to problem solve quickly and think with an imaginative and creative mindset. 

Sometimes when you experience something for the first time, your emotions must be checked before you can think clearly. It can be hard to look past or filter through these situations with no prior reference. Mentors can create situations like this for you and help determine what kind of learner you are in those moments. Do you learn well from the decisions of others, or do you need to experience things yourself before you truly understand?  Whichever your method, a mentor becomes vital in helping you progress through life.  


In your personal history, do you have a mentor who had an impact on your life and helped shape you as a leader?

I have had the luxury of having multiple mentors who have impacted and shaped me into the leader I am today. They all presented themselves during certain times or seasons in my life to provide me with the guidance needed. Some continue to stick around and provide mentorship, and others have long moved on to provide their mentorship to others.  

Is there a historical leader who inspired you growing up or shaped your understanding of society and your role in it? 

Marian Wright Edelman is the historical leader who continues to shape my understanding of society and my role within it. Her work through the Children’s Defense Fund aligns with my personal beliefs and drives me to exist in spaces to amplify her message:

Our mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

I aim to help this generation’s children learn to become the next generation’s parents who resonate with this message. 

Mrs. Edelman remains my heroine primarily because she makes herself reachable. As a young man employed in the CDF Freedom Schools as a Servant Leader Intern, I had the joy of being able to hug Mrs. Edelman. 

She greeted me with a warm smile and simply asked, “Are you taking care of my babies?”

With no hesitation, I responded, “Yes, ma’am.” 

That moment greatly altered my life trajectory and what I would decide to do with it moving forward. 


As a local leader in child advocacy, what future change do you hope to see that will create more opportunity for black children to assume leadership roles?

I aspire to see a concentrated effort of school leaders across the country creating systems and structures that provide our black children with immediate opportunities to impact the community they grow up in. The most talented black learners often leave their communities never to return because they don’t see the value in staying. I believe our schools owe it to all students to help them understand how they can directly impact and make a difference in their community. 

The days of only having black leaders who are too far out of touch with our children must end. Every black child deserves to have a Marian Wright Edelman who lives in the neighborhood and whom they see being invited to the house for dinner, attending their sporting events, their weddings, and in attendance at their high school graduation.

When we have a community that reflects this across the country, we will no longer be worried about black children assuming leadership roles. Instead, we will be having conversations about sustainability.  


Are there any personal or organizational celebrations of Black History Month in your community that you’d like to share? 

Since childhood, my mother has always made it a priority to ensure that my brother and I understood our history. She accomplished this through literacy. We would go to the Mid-Continent Library and check out books. The goal was to read and learn about new figures every year. With the internet being such a vast place for learning, my family can continue this tradition and share what we are reading. 

We live in a moment where we are experiencing many historical moments. So, we not only reach back to understand the past, but acknowledge what is transpiring right in front of us. We will all have a story to tell the next generation about where we were during these historical moments and our stance. Our goal is always to be on the right side of history, which is the arch that bends toward justice.


And we’d like you to answer the unasked question. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about the importance of Black History Month and what it means to you?

Black History Month offers a time in life when I see an effort made by many to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans. It serves as a great yearly reminder for everyone to reflect and consider whether we are truly creating equitable spaces where everyone experiences a sense of belonging. We still have a ways to go to get our Black leaders to top-tier positions, but we are certainly further along than we have been.

I eagerly await the day when I see many black children I have taught and led make their way to the top of various industries throughout the country.

Looking for more? Check out our 2023 Black History Month Conversations with Juanice Williams, Assistant Instructor of Social Work at the University of Central Missouri, and Anthony J. Mondaine, Sr., a pastor and Independence school district’s first Black school board member.