VIRGINIA BEACH — Dr. Kenneth Chandler, deputy city manager in Virginia Beach, spoke with students from eighth through 12th grades last month during the annual African American Male Summit at Princess Anne High School. The event had been rescheduled following bad weather.
I couldn’t make the rescheduled event, but I spoke with Chandler later by phone. We discussed his remarks and a brief conversation that followed them with a student.
Chandler told me he was building on a theme — the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then discussing dreams and challenges. “We’re not getting to live collectively all of what Dr. King’s dream is,” he said. And he talked about how through mentorships people can build partnerships that help them learn, grow and succeed.
Mentorships bring opportunities, too. It is not merely the single, lifelong mentor or influence we sometimes think about or see in movies about this sort of thing. It’s people at key times or bearing key guidance. It’s teachers, religious leaders, school resources, teachers, coaches, community members.
Perhaps even deputy city managers.
“Build your network,” Chandler said. “If you build your network, you can build your net worth. … You never stop meeting people. You never stop growing.”
Because you’re part of something, part of something like a tree. And you’re not just the top of that tree, what comes from the root. You’re one of the branches, growing from but also with other branches. If you grow well, other branches may grow from — and with — you. There have been many mentors along the road for Chandler.
“There’s not just one standout,” he said. “My approach years ago was to meet many people, to network. That tree of core individuals is probably 30 people.”
A branch in the tree for Chandler was Aubrey Watts Jr., who served as city manager in Virginia Beach from 1987 to 1991 amid a long career in local government that more recently included Greenville, S.C., and Charlottesville. Chandler said Watts urged him to work as utilities director, which led to operational experience and opportunity.
Chandler served in Richmond as utilities director. The canal system was regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One of the colonels was a soldier by the name of Dave Hansen. He is now the city manager of Virginia Beach, where Chandler now serves, too.
“You meet people,” Chandler said. “You learn certain skills. Hopefully, you’re able to make an impression.” Situations arise, relationships form, and opportunities develop.
Here’s a situation during the recent forum that stuck with Chandler. He was approached by a young person from Ocean Lakes following his remarks. The teenager had a thought.
“I hope you’ll come to Ocean Lakes High School and speak to me and some of my peers,” the teen said to Chandler.
If there is another discussion that comes from this, who knows where it can lead? Little moments are opportunities to grow together.
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