I’m thinking a lot about mentorship these days and might dedicate a posting or two to the theme. There are plenty of movies that seem to touch on this and many figure in my favorites.
Finding Forrester is one such movie. A 16-year-old African-American (Rob Brown) from the South Bronx is on track to use his basketball skills to leverage a scholarship that will take him through a fancy school and then college. But this student’s intellect is as good as his ball handling but there doesn’t seem to be anyone interested in this side of him.
On a dare, he breaks into the house of a strange old man who lives near the basketball court only to discover that crazy man is a famous but reclusive author. Sean Connery plays William Forrester who four decades earlier wrote a Pulitzer-winning novel, and then abruptly disappeared a.k.a. J.D. Salinger. Fortunately, the author’s depressive and scathing attitude has not diminished his passion for writing.
This movie works because it is not a typical condescending cliché where a homeboy rescued by wiser white mentor. It is an inspiring fusion of meeting of minds, where mutual respect and intelligence overcome the boundaries of culture and generation.
But it sends an important message. Mentoring must always be a two-way street. Humility is a major ingredient. We often hear teachers and professors say that they learn more from their students. We need more of these teachers in our schools rather than the egocentrics and those who just go through the motions.
To be fair, Finding Forrester also works because the wit is so sharp – see some quotes below.
Prof. Robert Crawford: [to Jamal] Perhaps your skills do reach farther than basketball.
Prof. Robert Crawford: What?
Claire Spence: [whispered to Jamal] Don’t…
Jamal: [to Crawford] You said that my skills reached “farther” than basketball. “Farther” relates to distance, “further” is a definition of degree. You should have said “further”.
Prof. Robert Crawford: Are you challenging me, Mr. Wallace?
Jamal: Not any more than you challenged Coleridge.
Jamal: We’ve been talking about your book at school.
Forrester: People have been talking about it for years. They just haven’t been saying anything.
Jamal: I think I got it down, though. I figure you were writing about how life never works out.
Forrester: Really? You had to read a book to figure that out?
Jamal: Did you ever enter a writin’ contest?
Forrester: Yeah, once.
Jamal: Did you win?
Forrester: Well of course I won!
Jamal: You win like money or somethin’?
Jamal: Well, whadchu win?
Forrester: The Pulitzer.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com