How mentorship can propel you into a top-tier college

Nicole Williams, Vice President, Middle Market Banking, JPMorgan Chase ((Photo Courtesy of JPMorgan Chase)

My phone buzzed. Like every other text message, I grabbed my phone immediately to read it. But this was no ordinary text. I looked down and read three words that suddenly meant someone’s life was about to change forever:

“I chose Berkeley”

As Ronni Lopez’s mentor, I saw a young man of color work hard every day to achieve his highest academic ambitions. So when he sent me that text message, I was extremely proud of what he just accomplished. Getting admitted into college is no small feat. But his story isn’t ending. He is about to start his next chapter. This fall Ronni will be attending the University of California, Berkeley.

Ronni and I were brought together through The Fellowship Initiative (TFI), a JPMorgan Chase program that focuses on improving economic and social outcomes for Black and Latino men, as well as other young men of color, from low-income communities.

Ronni and I didn’t have the typical mentor mentee relationship rife with shared experiences. We look different. I am a Black woman and he is a Latino young man—and we were raised in different scenarios.

As Ronni and I got to know each other, I realized we had more in common than I thought. We’re both members of communities of color and intimately understood the challenges that this brings. We share a diversity of thought and background. And, from a personal perspective, we both embody a boldness to defy the odds and fearlessly go after what we want—to shoot for the stars.

But you need to learn to be fearless.

Group shot of Nicole Williams, her mentor Ronni Lopez, and TFI mentor Mo Ndoye, and TFI mentee, Alexei Olivio (Photo Courtesy of JPMorgan Chase)

As a woman of color in banking, I know a thing or two about proving my worth. But in my experience, it’s one thing to know that you are enough, and it’s another to overcome your own the fears and do something about it. That’s where my mentors have helped me thrive in my life and that’s what I hoped to do for Ronni.

For the past 10 years, TFI has helped increase access to mentorship, college preparedness and career readiness for young men of color, who—due to systemic barriers—often face significant challenges when it comes to advancing their education and careers. The program is especially important now, during a crisis, when inequality for communities of color is magnified.

The power of a positive role model is game-changing. When I met Ronni, it was obvious that he was a social, outgoing and brilliant young man. What was less obvious was how he planned to apply himself.

We worked through the stress of college applications, discussed the importance of goals and how to learn from the success of others. I shared my own career journey, hoping to inspire him to dream big. After all, I could be an ally for Ronni, but he had to muster the courage to rise above his surroundings on his own.

And that can be daunting. Ronni is from a tight knit family and community. When he succeeded in life his community rejoiced and supported him every step of the way. We discussed at length his inclination to stay close to home when considering colleges, close to his support network and his comfort zone.

We worked through the concept of success and what it might mean for him and his community. We determined that his success was their success, so he not only owed it to himself to reach for the stars, he owed it to them. I stressed that he wouldn’t be abandoning the people who helped raise him if he decided to leave South Los Angeles, quite the contrary, he would be elevating them. His success in life is their return on investment.

Ronni Lopez ((Photo Courtesy of JPMorgan Chase))

So when my phone lit up and the message read “I chose Berkeley,” I got emotional. Because Ronni chose more than Berkeley, he chose to overcome his fears. He chose to reject negativity and to invest in himself, his independence and his future. He chose a path that will open up countless doors.

Ronni’s journey is just beginning, but I know one thing for sure, Ronni’s community invested in Berkeley’s next rising star. And I can’t wait to see the dividends.


If you are entering your sophomore year of high school and would like to apply to be a part of TFI in the 2020 school year and receive mentorship – please contact Melissa Echeverry:  [email protected]

We will have Zoom calls on August 20th, 25th, 26th and 27th from 3:30pm-4:00pm to discuss the program.  The deadline to apply is Friday September 4th.