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Mentor Pair Highlight

Point Scholar Jeff Sheng | Herb Hamsher

Jeff Sheng

Jeff Sheng and Herb HamsherI think that the mentoring aspect of Point is just as, if not even more valuable than the financial support that I receive from Point.  The organization spends a lot of energy, time and consideration in pairing lifelong mentors that can really fill a void in a scholar's life, whatever their experience.  For me, Herb was a perfect match, as I needed someone who could understand the intensity of a PhD program, but also someone who knew how to balance the demands of being a creative professional.  Herb had previously been the chair of a PhD program in psychology, a field related to mine, which is sociology.  And both of us have careers involved with art and entertainment.  While I am a new Point Scholar and we have only had our mentoring relationship for less than a year, my learning from this partnership has been invaluable.

One thing that really helped was our first meeting, Herb said, "Let's aim to meet at least once a month, and if we aren't able to meet that often, we will at least have set a really great vision of how often we should be in contact."  I think this really reframed the way I looked at our mentoring relationship.  If you know anything about Herb’s schedule or of mine, it is an understatement to say that we are both really busy.  We also live in multiple locations, but our common overlap is in LA – just not always at the same time.  Despite this, we have at least met or had an in depth phone call at least every other month, and knowing that our goal should be to do this even more, it’s helpful to know that we can and should meet even more.  Herb’s partner also invites me to play tennis whenever we are all in LA.  So even though Herb and I are both really busy, there is a strong effort to connect as often as we can.

Herb has been amazing at checking in with me, especially when I fell into a black hole of contact with the outside world due to grad school.  My first quarter at Stanford this past fall was really hard for me, adjusting to a lot of sudden changes with everything.  I basically shut myself off from everyone for about a month as I feverishly tried to learn advanced statistics and write final papers, while still continuing the same photography work I had been doing before.  Instead of getting upset with my sudden loss of contact with people, Herb would gently check in with me to make sure I was okay, and let me know he was there for me if I needed someone to talk to.  It was so helpful to know that someone cared about how I was doing, and knew exactly what I was going through.

Herb has been really inspiring for me – and has really pushed me to think big to really make an impact with my work.  He has challenged me with really critical questions about LGBTQ issues that I had not really thought of.  Also, many of my professors in school are not LGBTQ “experts,” and having Herb, my resident LGBTQ academic expert feeding me literature to read and think about, is such a benefit.  Herb has also really taught me that it’s okay to relax, and continues to remind me to take care of my personal relationships and my own well-being.

At the end of the day, the most beneficial change in myself that I have identified thanks to Herb, is that he has not only pushed the bar higher, but helped me redefine the bar that I have set for myself.  Having Herb as a mentor and role model who has such an amazing balance of work, life, friends, relationships, and success is inspiring.  Each time we meet, I learn something new.  Our mentor/mentee relationship has definitely been a highlight of my Point Scholar experience. 

Herb Hamsher 

Those who know me are familiar with my experience since childhood that being gay is a blessing and also with my absolute and concrete conviction that this community exists for a purpose, in the “cosmic sense of asking the Universe” some form of “Why I am here?” / “What I am supposed to do with my life?”.  

My explanation of both of these points typically begins with my explanation that, in my view, “coming out” is not in fact so much about saying “I am gay”, as it is an existential moment in which you realize that quite literally ALL of the forces of the Universe are pushing you to be something/someone you are not.  “All of the forces of the Universe” needs to be taken literally, albeit restricted to the human, social level.  It includes religion, law, education, family, peer pressure, ……… and infinitum (literally).  To me, “coming out” is the act of standing up to those forces and saying, “Actually, that is not my experience.  And my experience is between God and me and no one else.  If someone has difficulty with who I am and how I have been created, I can actually understand that.  After all, I am aware of the direction and intensity of all the forces in the Universe; I experience them!  Therefore, I can both understand and have compassion for the difficulties experienced by people, obviously starting with my wonderful family who has always been very loving. They have the intention of expressing that love to me, including actually through pressuring me to be someone I am not.  I recognize they have no education, experience, or training in relating to what I have come to a place of clarity about.  Therefore I am willing to be their teacher and to, in essence, lead them to discover what is literally another way to be in the world:  a way that is literally functionally autonomous and in which one discovers one’s experience and values not from the outside but from the inside and through experience and connection with the literal Universe.”

For the most recent era of my life, one of the things that has been particularly central for me has been Point Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to finding stellar young people in our community with potential to become significant leaders, not only within their own lives, but within our community and in the process of our community leading the larger one to “another way to be in the world.”  Point operates by not only providing some degree of financial assistance to those who need it, but also by providing individual and collective mentoring both in the specific educational and professional sense and in the sense of providing guidance about anything and everything in life.  We operate from the observation that our community and our lives are highly distinctive in the sense that we “are born into families that (typically) do not share our identity.”  Most humans grow up in situations and families who understand the challenges of growing up and support them in navigating the obstacles – some of which are, in fact, specific to identity and “minority status.”  GLBT people literally have typically over my lifetime both felt they were totally alone in their experience of discovering they “are different” and they had to “make it up out of nothing” in becoming who they were becoming.

Point provides perhaps the first viable actual “intergenerational community” in which younger people can both relate in very open and “normal” ways with older people but also learn, openly, from the experiences the previous generations have had.  What, for example, other minorities go through with their Jewish, African American, Muslim, Korean, Hispanic, etc. families, our Scholars experience with their mentors and our Point community. And, incidentally, it should be made clear that what one gets from an intergenerational Point community does not replace what one gets from one’s “other” family(s) but, in fact, adds to it and deepens it.  What we in Point discover, in fact, is that being a Point Scholar often results in our Scholars having vastly closer and more authentic relationships with their families of origin.

What is relevant, however, to this discussion is what our Point applicants and Scholars have taught us about identity and naming.  We have discovered over the years that we have continually needed to expand the options we provide for identifying both one’s “sexual orientation” and one’s “gender identity.”  Young people keep teaching us how limited we are in our thinking.  The ultimate value of mentoring is that it flows in both directions.  That is why, although I appreciate people’s resistance to our seemingly endless addition of letters in designating our community, I say let’s follow our young, embrace their inspiring leadership in inclusion and just find a way to language it.  Perhaps, ‘Leg- BIT-Que-A Community’.  Knowing our young people, they will ultimately lead us even beyond this, but we are determined to keep up with them!

Point offers mentorship, leadership development and community service training to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) students.

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