When Bryant O.C. Wallace first met his 19-year-old mentee, he felt like he was looking into a mirror of his younger self.
“He was very similar to myself. He works very hard and wants to prove something,” Wallace said of Mohammad Hossain.
As a student leader, Hossain was struggling to keep his group engaged. He wasn’t sure the best way to give orders to the other students.
Hossain and the other students were involved in Lumity’s summer project designed to help students solve real-world problems, pitching their solutions to a business that volunteered to participate in the program.
Lumity, based downtown Chicago, provides business resources to nonprofit organizations. In 2013, Lumity added a college and career readiness program to expose youth to science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
But Wallace observed that Hossain’s group wasn’t accomplishing much during the summer project.
“Mohammad was in the corner not saying too much. I could tell he wasn’t happy,” said Wallace, CEO of WallScott Solutions, which provides IT services to small businesses.
Wallace, the oldest of five brothers and one sister, often tried to tell his siblings what to do but eventually learned leadership is more than just giving orders. Wallace said he realized Hossain was facing a similar challenge.
“I told him, instead of telling them what to do, you have to find out what they want to do and coach them along,” Wallace said. “This kid got it. He is exactly who I am.”
At the summer program’s end, Lumity matched interested students, age 15-20, with technology professionals. There were 12 pairs, including Wallace and Hossain.
“I first met [Wallace] during Lumity’s introduction to people who are successful,” said Hossain, a freshman at the University of Illinois Chicago who is majoring in health information management.
“I thought he was a really interesting man. He started from the bottom and worked his way up.”
When Wallace was 9, he sold candy door-to-door for extra money in Davenport, Iowa. Eventually, he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Hossain also said Wallace has helped him become more outgoing.
“I am kind of a bookworm. I would have just stayed in my room and studied a lot. Mr. Wallace has said to go out and meet new people, because it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Hossain said.
Professionals interested in volunteering can visit the organization’s website at Lumity.org.
This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership. Margaret Anderson, the author of this story, is a student at Northwestern University.