The Power of One: How One-on-One Mentorship Could Change The World

Dr. Juneau Robbins

“Instill in a person a higher vision of themselves, of their talents and worth, of their immeasurable value, and odds are favorable they will strive to live up to those expectations.” – Dr. Juneau Robbins

Shots, shouts, and sirens. Last night more shootings in my North Minneapolis neighborhood. An innocent grandmother sitting in her minivan was caught in the crossfire of gang violence. Tragically, she lost her life. Somebody lost their mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and confidant. In a separate incident an innocent 7-year-old boy was shot in the leg. He will live to tell the tale.

Stories like this are becoming commonplace, and it takes honest effort to not become desensitized into considering this foolishness the new normal. It seems every week we hear news of another shooting or killing. It’s personal. It’s close. The neighborhood echoes with frustrated and fearful calls for someone to do something, anything…and with due respect, many people are trying.

Small scenes mirroring a bigger picture playing the same scenario in cities all across the United States. Why are attempts at solving this crisis so seemingly ineffective? The causes are complex, mangled and entangled to be sure. Ranging from gun control issues to parenting discipline to racial and socio-economic dynamics. But the greatest cause may actually be the simplest to identify, diagnose, and define. One word. Mindset.

While there are plenty of “community leaders”, non-profits, churches, and organizations seeking to change the situation, striving to improve the odds for young people, neighborhoods, and cities, the reality is that no one person, group, or organization can or will fully be able to solve the problem. But every person, group and organization can contribute something, at least one thing, toward the solution. We are all pieces of The Power of One.

I used to believe creating significant change for the betterment of society had to be on a massive scale to really make a difference. A scale like the Civil Rights Movement lead by a Martin or Malcolm, or India’s Independence Movement lead by Gandhi. With age and experience I’ve realized these great leaders, while magnetic, special and destined for their causes, were as much a product of being in the right place at the right time with the right message, as they were their talents.

The movement necessary to curb gun violence in America’s cities, to curb violent and self-destructive behavior in general, is a mostly a movement of the mind….call it a “Mindset Movement”. A movement in which cultivating and growing young minds toward their maximum positive potential, able to visualize healthy lives for themselves, families, and communities, is the chief and primary aim.

Looking back on life, I realize the strongest influential forces during youth’s most impressionable years were the everyday examples in my life, like my business English teacher, high school basketball coach, and especially my father. They were huge influencers in determining my decisions and direction because of their consistent and positive presence, not necessarily their talents (though their talents certainly did not hurt!). It wasn’t their charismatic ability to lead mass political or social movements that created their phenomenal influence, it was their constructive and constant presence.

Over the span of decades each one of these men significantly influenced the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of impressionable young people like myself. Young people who have matured over time and are now in the prime of influencing others coming along behind us. Multiply each of those men by a hundred and in a few short generations their positive influence exponentially reaches tens of thousands. Quiet, exponential influence is an amazing return on influence investment.

Never underestimate The Power of One

Imagine this.

The passion of a youthful tryst creates the spark of life. Nine months later a child is born to a single mother, herself literally more than a child. She struggles daily to provide the most basic of needs to her greatest creation. It happens countless times daily, so common an occurrence it may seem like a MINOR thing.

Years pass and the child grows, their young thoughts and values shaped and molded daily by environments and events restrictive to their genius. Their self-image, self-talk, and budding self-esteem are strongly influenced by codes of the street, peers, and learned limitations passed down through generations.

Many in society would see these developments as expected and inevitable, occurring so frequently and commonly they seem like MINOR things.

Self-destructive choices and behaviors become the norm for this young seed. A victim mentality produces a short-sighted, selfish attitude and limited vision of what may be possible to achieve in life. For that child these are life-direction determining developments – these are MAJOR things.

Multiply that child by a few dozen and you influence the energy, attitude and safety of a school. Outside of school hours you literally affect the environment and livability of a neighborhood.

That child continues to age, grow, and mature. Physically stronger and independent to roam. Multiply that young person by a few hundred and you influence the energy, safety, and quality-of-life of an average-sized city.

Multiply that child by a few thousand and you impact the condition, vitality, and concerns of a major city.

Multiply that child by a few hundred thousand, even possibly a million, and you literally influence the politics, dynamics, and well-being of a nation.

So, the absence of a single positive and consistent influence in the life of one child is potentially powerful enough to affect the well-being of an entire nation. That is a MAJOR thing.

Backtrack to that child’s most formative years. Along comes an encouraging man or woman who is compassionate, grounded, and stable. An optimistic individual who sees the potential in that child, with a heart to give of themselves and their time.

Such individuals are plentiful around our cities and nation. In fact, so plentiful that as one person they may be considered a MINOR thing.

Say that man or woman routinely nourishes that child’s mind with positive reinforcement and encouraging words, consistently infusing that young mind with a confident vision of what they may eventually become. Individually, that initial exposure to a higher vision may be considered a MINOR thing.

That higher, positive image replaces the negative, self-limiting image in that child’s mind of what may be possible to pursue and accomplish in life. This may seem like a MINOR thing to the world, but it is a paradigm shift – a MAJOR thing to that child.

Multiply that encouraging man or woman (mentor) by a few dozen and you influence the energy, attitude, and safety of a school. Outside of school hours you literally improve the environment and livability of a neighborhood.

Multiply that encouraging man or woman (mentor) by a few hundred and you influence the energy, safety, and quality-of-life of an average-sized city.

Multiply that man or woman (mentor) by a few thousand and you positively impact the condition, vitality, and concerns of a major city.

Multiply that man or woman (mentor) by a few hundred thousand, even possibly a million, and you literally influence the politics, dynamics, and well-being of a nation.

Multiply that man or woman by a few millions and you literally impact the well-being of the entire world.

Mindset…the master maker. Having a consistent and positive presence in a child’s life during their most formative years is the most important factor in the healthy development of a child’s mindset. Initiating a higher vision-of-self while positively reinforcing talents, growing confidence, and exposing young people to safe, diverse, and healthy environments are keys to helping grow young people into healthy, contributing members of society, who will eventually pay it forward, acting as future mentors to future generations.

One-on-one mentorship is a MAJOR enough concept to build empowered human beings, communities, and nations all around the world. Not that “now and again” mentorship, but consistent and committed mentorship.

If only the solution were that simple. That’s what Edison thought about the electric light bulb at a time when humanity existed in darkness every single night. Now electric lights seems a pretty simple and taken-for-granted concept in our lives. It can happen.

Every problem has multiple solutions that can work in harmony toward a common goal, and every solution begins with a concept or idea. Very rarely a new idea. More often a refined and developed idea. Why should one-on-one mentorship be any different? The Power of One. Idealistic and simple. Powerful enough to positively influence the well-being of the world.

The Power of One is a piece of the solution available to everyone, and it may be pursued in many different ways. Whether choosing to participate in existing mentorship programs offered through local non-profits, churches, or organizations, or simply taking a consistent interest in a young person’s life accessible in everyday circles. It doesn’t need to be official to be effective. If you don’t know how to begin getting involved, simply begin asking questions. I guarantee the answer will present in short time.

Just a few thoughts from the mind of one who believes in The Power of One. If this post makes sense, please share. Let’s exercise our Power of One. Together we make a difference.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

Darryl’s Story – A Lesson in Self-Belief

Old Book

“Sometimes the spark of success is simply refusing to allow the closed-minded and
limiting beliefs of others to define the reality of our potential.”

Without question the digital age is amazing, but old books have long been a treasured joy in my life. While I appreciate the modern conveniences of Google, GPS, and smartphones, there is nothing like paging through the slightly yellowed pages of a century-old book. Each page requiring a delicate turn for fear the slightly brittle paper may tear.

My senior year of high school I stumbled upon a set of books fitting this description to a T. Written in the early 1900’s, they were a series of short stories, bound in aged brown leather binding. One story from the bunch always stuck with me. I don’t know whether the story was actually fact or fiction, but it held such an incredible moral teaching I recall the basics of it to this day.

This story was about a young boy. I’ll call him Darryl.

From a very young age Darryl’s mother was overprotective of her son’s intellectual shortcomings. Since the beginning of his formal education he struggled with the basics of reading, writing, and math. His end-of-school-year report cards were filled with C’s, D’s, and even F’s.

Darryl’s mother would constantly make excuses why he could not achieve like other children, trying to make him (and herself) feel better. His teachers pushed him to learn a remedial trade, or seek and settle for a bare-bottom job, frequently telling him he would never achieve anything more.

At 19 years of age Darryl finally finished his schooling. He began searching for a full time job, taking with him the subconscious mother-teacher imposed mental label of a slow-learning underachiever with no real potential for success.

Darryl was not considered an even averagely bright person by most of society’s standards. He was unable to read, write, add or subtract, with a great deal of efficiency. Yet, Darryl had some very pleasing charms about him. He was very mannerly, personable, and pleasant to be around. He exhibited many natural gifts. Those who took time to get to know him considered him friendly.

On top of everything, most importantly, despite the negative labels and stigmas placed on him by authority figures and people surrounding him his entire life, Darryl was stubborn in his resolve to succeed. Every day, several times a day, he would repeat to himself, almost remedially, “I think I can, I think I can!” after his favorite childhood story The Little Red Engine.

One day Darryl heard of a job opening at a local convenience store for a position of inventory clerk. Remember this was in the early 1900’s…the job paid forty cents per hour. He applied for the job and fared quite well through the interview process until the interviewer asked him about his education.

Being honest in nature, Darryl admitted his struggle with reading, writing, and math. The store’s owner refused to hire him, for it would never do to have an inventory clerk who could not accurately read, write, add and subtract. Such a clerk would lose track of the store’s inventory, potentially harming the business.

Dejected, Darryl went to see one of his friends, who happened to own a widget supply business. He shared with his friend what had transpired at the job interview.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” his friend responded sympathetically. “I’ll give you this box of widgets. It’s a product everybody can use. You go and sell these widgets and I’ll give you 100% of the profit.”

Darryl enthusiastically agreed and went forth. He went on a widget selling super-spree. He sold the widgets. All of them. With the money he made he purchased more widgets from his friend and resold them, again keeping the profit. He repeated this cycle over and over again.

Darryl discovered he possessed a skill for selling widgets that could be matched by very few others. It was not long until he set up his own widget supply business, and his business flourished.

A few years later Darryl had the opportunity to purchase the building that housed his widget supply business. It was a multi-unit building, giving him a chance to be a landlord, collect passive rental income, and set him for life. It was an incredible opportunity.

Excited, scared and apprehensive, Darryl went rushing to his bank.

To the bank manager, who by now knew him by name, Darryl exclaimed, “I need to borrow $10,000 and I need it soon! Can you let me have it? If I can get $10,000 I can buy this building. Can you please let me have it?”

The elderly banker looked at young Darryl curiously, smiling. “Why do you want to borrow that amount of money?” he asked. “Do you know how much money you have in this bank?”

“No.” Darryl replied sullenly. “I’m not very good at reading or writing, or with numbers. When my bank statements come I just file them away. All I know is I’m not struggling. But I think I can be successful.”

“Your balance is well over $25,000,” the banker stated. “You, son, are a very successful young man! You didn’t know that?” The banker paused, then said, “Imagine what you might have been if you could keep track of numbers!”

Darryl was silent for a long minute, thoughtfully reflecting back on his modest and frustrating beginnings.

Finally, he spoke.


Now, I’m sure the particulars of that story as I recall it, the numbers or widgets sold, or other small details are off, but the moral teaching shines clear. In all of our lives there will be people, sometimes well-meaning people, who will try to place us in boxes, imparting false and limiting beliefs on our lives based on their limited vision of what may be possible.

The truth is much greater and grander. It is what we choose to think and believe about ourselves that determines the rightful path of our pursuits. Nobody can (or should) believe in ourselves greater than we believe in ourselves. That’s an amazing concept, worth adopting to our very core.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading that story as much as I enjoyed recalling and writing it.

As always, thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

7 Lessons of Grit & Greatness Learned From ‘The Greatest’


“His energy and presence existed much larger than his physical form. He walked with his own atmosphere. His atmosphere was his entourage.”

Nearly a quarter century ago, long before the age of smart phones and digital photos, I was blessed to be in the presence of The Greatest.

Imagine being in the same place at the same time as one of the greatest human beings walking the face of the earth, at one time the most famous living person on the planet, and not having the sense to memorialize the moment in a photo…even though a photo was taken. Regretfully, it happened to me.

Muhammad Ali was well past his athletic prime at the time. A weathered warrior in his early fifties, his fight with Parkinson’s disease already taking a visible toll on his body.  Still, he was an impressive figure. Literally and figuratively. His energy and presence existed much larger than his physical form. He walked with his own atmosphere. His atmosphere was his entourage.

This day I was downtown Minneapolis with a friend. It was a chance occurrence. There was a large crowd gathered in a city center plaza. Soon we discovered the reason for the gathering was Muhammad Ali. I don’t recall exactly why he was there, perhaps a book signing or celebrity endorsement, but we quickly hatched a plan to pitch for a photo.

Those were the days of disposable yellow Kodak cameras – the kind you drop off to a local drug store and wait a day or two for the film to be developed. We put ourselves in the path of The Champ as he exited the store and boldly asked for a picture. He was more than obliging. I remember him putting his arm around my shoulder and giving a friendly, confident squeeze. No real conversation. A simple cordial greeting, smile, and click. The perfect picture.

A fleeting moment forever imprinted in my mind, which is great because the film was never developed. Those were college days, moving to a new residence after every school year. The disposable camera probably wound up in an apartment junk drawer or hidden in a shoebox, discarded as trash many years ago.

The importance of following-up on opportunities, quickly and thoroughly, is a valuable lesson most of us will learn many times over our lifetime.   

 A lost opportunity, but the experiential memory is amazing.

How do you adequately pay tribute to a man as great as Muhammad Ali? A man who, for a full half-century, galvanized and inspired much of the world’s population regardless of race, creed, or color. A man who unabashedly thrived internationally as a voice of confidence, truth, and potential-fulfilled, with a heart to represent and speak for the lesser-heard, under-served, and under-represented people of the world. A man who’s demeanor, confidence, and energy was powerful enough to stand up to the most powerful government in the world in the midst of racial segregation and prejudice in the United States. Not only demanding, but commanding respect and admiration, regardless of opinion about his brashness, race, or athletic ability.

It’s a curious combination…the triad of bravado, wisdom, and compassion. It’s a beautiful combination.

The world is fortunate to have a great deal of Muhammad Ali’s passion, principles and charisma captured in print, audio, and video. Past generations were blessed with his presence, the present generation is being blessed, and future generations will be blessed by his preserved greatness. Indeed, he was a Creator-gifted human being who lived a life true to his beliefs, character, and potential. Collectively, the world expresses our thank you.

Detailing Ali’s athletic accolades is easy – any brief article or history book can list them. More interesting is how Ali’s physical combination of power, speed, agility, and grace mirrored the same tenants in his intellect. His athleticism was a microcosm, just a tiny piece, of the macrocosm of the man. His mental keenness and mental fortitude blended perfectly with his confidence, personality, spiritual-grounding, and love for humanity.  All allowing him to transcend sports to become an iconic, yet relatable, larger-than-life figure championed by all.

Muhammad Ali’s poetic personality and charismatic showmanship created many timeless quotations, many of which could be expounded into self-empowerment chapters of their own.  For the sake of brevity, here are 7 of my favorite Muhammad Ali quotations along with a brief explanation why they resonate with such power.

“We can’t be brave without fear.”

Everyone feels fear…there are zero exceptions to this powerful human emotion. It is not lack of fear that separates us. It is how we respond to fear that separates us. The greatest amongst us are simply braver than their fears and willing to act upon that bravery. Fears faced and conquered shatter perceived limits, and once limits are shattered the realm of unlimited possibility exists. The amazing message of this quotation – feel the fear and do it anyway, or make a conscious choice to live a limited life. That’s no way to live fully.

 “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Everyone is gifted with at least one super talent that if pursued and developed will allow them to become great in that area. Finding that super talent, however, is a process many will never undertake. It can be difficult, but living a life of average and mundane is not the purpose of life. In order to discover our greatest gifts we must go against the well-intended advice of average and ordinary, usually coming from those who care about us most. Failure does not lie in not achieving something we set out to pursue, the greatest failure lies in not having the courage to try. The powerful message of this quotation – be courageous, take the risks, and pursue the dreams. Don’t settle for average when greatness is an option.

 “Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you’re walking the only way to progress along the journey is to continually set one foot in front of the other…time and time and time again. Have you ever tried walking a considerable distance with a stone in your shoe? It may be one of the most annoying sensations imaginable. A smart man will take a moment of pause, remove the stone, and then continue on the journey. With the stone removed, focus once again returns to the bigger picture. The valuable message in this quotation – great things are accomplished in small steps, but to accomplish them you must keep on stepping. At times this may require pause and the removal of small irritations, annoying and unproductive, along the journey.

“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

Grit and determination allow us to rise-up in situations where others may elect to stay down. In the pursuit of goals and dreams, or simply along the course of life, everyone gets knocked down. Usually multiple times. It doesn’t matter how strong, smart, or gifted we may be, everyone suffers defeats along the way. Once again, it’s how we respond to the situation that matters. The great ones collect their wits, rise-up, and soon are back in action. The more times you get knocked down and get up, the odds are improving in your favor. The motivational message in this quotation – if you get knocked down, don’t stay down. Rise up and continue to fight. Eventually you’ll be the winner still standing.

 “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

It’s the long hours of work behind the scenes when no one is watching, before the lights come on, before you show up at school or the office, before the big presentation, that makes the stage show shine.  Plain and simple, hard work and discipline are absolutely necessary to achieve great success. Life may look charmed from the outside looking in, but guaranteed it’s the work behind the scenes, the countless hours of practice, that makes the great become The Greatest. The simple message in this quotation – success is no good-luck accident. If you truly want it, be willing to put in the work.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Perhaps it was a quality rooted in his humble upbringing in the United States’ segregated south, but Muhammad Ali was a humanitarian to the core.  From a young age he exhibited a love, kinship, and heart to help those less fortunate than himself. To stand up for those who would be bullied, picked on, or treated unfairly. This was a quality that seemed to strengthen with Ali’s conversion and life-long practice of Islam. The greatest among us are not takers, they are givers. Perhaps because they are so spiritually filled themselves they feel no need to take. A vessel that is full cannot help but give. A quiet irony in life is the more you give the more you receive. The higher message in this quotations is simple – he who helps the most, wins. In the big picture being of service to our fellow man is being of service to ourselves.

“Me? Whee!”

These two words delivered by Ali at a 1975 Harvard lecture went on record as the shortest poem ever written. At the time he had been asked, “What it’s like to be as great as Ali?” With this two word response, living true to his reputation for playful bravado, he conveyed that being Ali was a lot fun! Some sources argue this poem was meant to be printed as “Me / We” – implying the connectedness of all people, which would hold amazing meaning in itself. Especially coming from Ali the humanitarian, also known as The People’s Champ.  Either way, this two word quotation holds an incredible meaning – either celebrate thyself, or realize we’re all connected and act accordingly.   

Muhammad Ali was a fighter to the very end. A fighter for empowerment, truth, equality, and the fulfillment of human purpose and potential. Indeed, he was an amazing athlete, named Sportsman of the 20th Century, but his skills in the boxing ring are not what made him The Greatest.

At the end of his physical life, even though his movements were shaky and slow, and his speech slurred, his mind was sharp and fully functioning. After all his other organs had failed his HEART would not stop beating. According to his family, for a full 30 minutes his heart just kept beating. A true testament to the strength of his will.

There is an ancient Sanskrit Proverb that says, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

These words could be no more fitting than for Muhammad Ali. Many sportsman are considered great because of their skills, and other personalities have transcended sports to become iconic figures, but there can be only one ‘The Greatest’.  Muhammad Ali was, and will always be, The Greatest.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J