I was also conscious of the fact that Howard, like so many well known institutions of higher learning—such as the University of Southern California, Yale, and Columbia, to name a few—was located smack-dab in the middle of a low- income, primarily African-American neighborhood struggling with crime and drug abuse. I felt a sense of responsibility to serve where I lived and attended school. Since I was close to the Washington, DC, headquarters for RESULTS, the organization my mom had long supported, I ended up working on its special events, volunteering to help set up rallies, street fairs, and even a huge gathering on the Mall. I also have fond memories of mentoring a little girl who lived in my neighborhood, a child who was being raised by her grandmother. To protect her privacy, I'll call her Jasmine M. Over the three years that I mentored her, Jasmine M. and I became very close, and I got a huge lesson in how far a little bit of time can go in someone else's life.
I also saw that "it takes a village to raise a child," since I soon had pretty much everyone I knew involved in mentoring Jasmine M. as well, including all my girlfriends and my then boyfriend. Whichever one of us was available would spend time with Jasmine M., sometimes just hanging out with her or maybe taking her to museums and exhibits. I had a weekend job as a concierge at the Embassy Suites Hotel, and soon Jasmine M. was sitting behind my desk for my entire shift, coloring or reading. After a while, she became everybody's child. And isn't that how it should be?
After graduation, I tried to stay in touch with her, and on my trips back to DC, I often took Jasmine M. out to lunch. Though I do not know where she is or what she is doing all these years later, I can only hope that I had a positive influence on her life. I know that she had an amazing influence on my life and I still think of her to this day.
Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.