Wandering down Main Street in the winter of 2020-21 was an exercise of isolation. A scene more closed than open, I was pleasantly surprised by the effort of the Umatilla County Special Library District. Such an inviting window display of popup children's books was a welcome sight that caused me to reflect on the simple joy of seeing them. The affect of these images popping from the page made me think of the isiZulu greeting I had learned while serving in KwaZulu-Natal a few years before….”Sawbona”, the equivalent of “I see you” gave such meaning to any encounter that its significance had stayed with me. “Sawbona”, I thought, to these little books that literally jumped from the page to achieve that very outcome of being seen. This pleasant curation of all the books to choose from was not lost on me that day. (Check out their programming-it’s wonderful: https://www.ucsld.org/take-off-a-preschool-learning-outreach-program).
There is a strong connection between my work with mentoring at Impact Pendleton and Sawbona. Every day that the mentors in our program connect with their mentees, they live out this greeting: “Sawbona, I see you”, by engaging in relationship building unique to that particular mentee's background, interest, and needs. The value of seeing is eloquently described by Dr. Wizdom Powell in her talk at the 2020 National Mentoring Summit, on the importance of mentoring for traumatized youth and the need for someone to say to them, “We see you”: https://youtu.be/EMZO
(about 8 minutes in, but don’t miss her powerful talk).
Engaging with youth in this individualized way creates ripples that were so well characterised by the author Jim Crace in his interview for The Atlantic. He explains the formative effect of his childhood experiences through analysis of an old English nursery rhyme: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor”--you know the one. [“The Hidden Poetic Genius of an Old English Nursery Rhyme”] https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/03/the-hidden-poetic-genius-of-an-old-english-nursery-rhyme/274370/ The nuance of poetry vs prose that it represents opened the door to literature for him, and he points out through a reminiscence the way that interests like literature are formed in young people, “They’re formed by early encounters”, he says. As we recognize National Poetry Month in April, it is useful to consider the intersections he describes as a period of maximum potential for influence in the development of youth.
Reverend Roger Scholtz puts early development in a biblical context using text from Isaiah to illuminate Sawbona by noting that God sees us and cherishes us even in the womb! Listen to his sermons here, and never mind that he is a fellow South African (no bias here):
How encouraging to those giving a bit of their time to recognize the value God has placed on the mentee they are matched with. Mentors, your work stands out to me like those little popup scenes that brightened my winter day. “Sawbona!”
How do Round-up, Mentoring, and Women’s History all get roped up together in the mind of this author? It starts with the inspiring message shared by Kam Phillips at TedexCoMo in 2013 during her talk, Mentorship Will Change the World. She offers her own experiences as living proof of the value of the inputs of a mentor. I recommend the whole clip, but this quote sums it up ( About 4 minutes in here): youtu.be/0BFQbCVtI2k
“I believe that there are all of these things we can do. We can create cures for cancer, we can create all of these things, but how did the little girl who was raised in a barn riding bareback and barefoot get to this? Get to shaking hands with the President and talking with him about Mizzou basketball? It’s mentorship.”
The picture that she paints about mentoring is as custom made for Pendleton, Oregon, as the 2019 official round-up poster by Donna Howell-Sickles is for women’s history month. Both are rosy and full of exuberance, but similar to women’s history, these representations are built on plenty of time, sweat, and had their ups and downs.
In Kam’s case, she describes the lessons learned as a blue ribbon rodeo cowgirl. When she was flying too high, her father insisted, “ It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” In the case of Bonnie Mc Carroll’s [see her profile on the National Cowgirl Museum and hall of Fame website: http://www.cowgirl.net/portfolios/bonnie-mccarroll/ ], career, her downs proved fatal in a terrible bronc riding accident at the 1929 Pendleton Round-up. The repercussions kept women down for many years. In a brief article on the Round-up in Pendleton, author William F Willingham explains that, “Until 1929, tough-as-nails cowgirls competed in horse racing, bronc busting, and trick roping events. The accidental death of bronc rider Bonnie McCarroll led to the banning of women contestants at the Round-Up for over seventy years. Women contestants returned to the Round-Up in 2000 in the barrel-racing event.”
Prior to the accident, Bonnie was on the up-side for many years as an accomplished cowgirl, but it is Kathleen McClintock who earned pride of place in the view of the public with her image cast in bronze and a plaque that situates her as Queen of the 1929 Round-up Court: Yes, that’s the same year that Bonnie was fatally thrown. The plaque that dedicates her likeness (see above images) includes a quote about her from Round-up business manager George Baer, “Miss McClintock was queen of our 1929 Round-up, and I believe by far the most popular young lady to have ever acted in that capacity. She is a charming girl.” Many years later, Kam got advice from her father that privileged the way she presented herself over just winning. Watching her present on mentorship and considering her many successes brings to life the history of these women who came before her and shared their ups and downs in ways that shaped the future of women’s history.
Author William F Willingham [in the Oregon Encyclopedia ( A project of the Oregon Historical Society):
On Women’s History: Because of Her Story: Smithsonian resource
On artist Donna Howell-Sickles