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Minnesota mentor shares life lessons with next generation

Growing up, Johnnie Merritt felt like there weren’t many Black male role models for him to look up to. That’s what inspired him as an adult to sign up with the Twin Cities Big Brother Big Sister mentorship program. 

“I thought that this would be a good space to fill that void for someone else,” Johnnie said. 

Five months ago, the marketing analyst was matched with his 10-year-old mentee, Ayden. Coming into the match, Johnnie was curious and nervous, but he knew he wanted to give back to youth of color.  

Johnnie remembers watching videos by a motivational speaker for advice on growth in his personal life. It reminded him of why he wanted to be a mentor.  

“The speaker often spoke about giving 120% effort when doing things,” Johnnie said. “This stuck with me, because I am often looking to see how I can go above expectations.”  

Johnnie and Ayden typically spend up to four hours together per month. They attend sporting events and play basketball to build on their relationship.  

“Initially he was shy and reserved,” Johnnie said. “Now he’s outspoken, joyful and playful.” 

Johnnie revels in being a role model to Ayden by demonstrating through his own life journey how to work hard but also have fun.  

“I try to show him the fun side of having a big brother and give life lessons on being a gentleman and having good manners every so often,” Johnnie said.  

Passion for giving back 

At work, Johnnie’s leaders have noticed his enthusiasm and sense of pride for being a mentor. He also brought his passion for service to his team at work, organizing a volunteer event at a local nonprofit this summer.  

“From day one, I could see the determination and commitment he had to go above and beyond,” said Tracy Selchow, business operations manager. “His passion [to give back] outside of work is carrying over into our team.” 

Whether he’s giving back to the community or strengthening his mentor relationship, Johnnie plans to continue to empower the next generation of leaders.  

“I don’t want to keep the knowledge to myself,” he said. “I want to be able to pass it down.”