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How Black Leaders at Bolder Options Found Inspiration in Their Mentors

This February, instead of just looking back at national icons from Black History, let's also shine a light on the impactful leaders in our local community. Join us as we highlight the stories of individuals involved in Bolder Options who are making a difference today. Learn about their mentors, how their influence shaped their journey, and how they are contributing to a better future for all. Let's celebrate the present-day leaders who are carrying on the legacy of Black excellence.


Rod Young is the Chief Executive Officer of Delta Dental of Minnesota, a Board Member at Bolder Options and a great advocate for mentoring talks about his mentor, George Watson.

Question: Who was a significant Black mentor in your life and why? 

Rod: “George Watson was a significant mentor to me. I met him when he worked for 3M in the Medical Products Division as the National Sales Trainer. I met him in St. Paul when I came from Chicago for a sales training. He was the very first person of color that I met then.”

Question: What characteristics or qualities did your mentor possess that helped you build a strong connection with him?

Rod: "He had a strong professional presence; well-dressed, with a firm handshake and a genuine interest in teaching and educating. He demonstrated truthfulness and a focus on contributing to my success. A very smart and well-rounded individual, he was into the arts, particularly jazz."

Question: In what ways did he influence you either personally or professionally?

Rod: Well, personally, he turned me into a true jazz buff because we used to get together after hours and listen to jazz and talk business. Professionally, he emphasized that I should always be prepared. Always be prepared when you show up for anything, whether it's for a coffee with the peer or a business meeting for sales opportunities; be prepared, be prepared, be prepared. He reminded me that when we show up, we as persons of color, men of color; there's a spotlight on you, not necessarily a bad spotlight, but there's a spotlight on you. So if you're in the spotlight, make sure you shine positively and always be prepared. 

"He also taught me the importance of being a keen listener to uncover opportunities and challenges, especially in business conversations like sales and marketing. Just as a physician takes a diagnostic approach by asking questions before prescribing treatment, he emphasized the value of understanding before engaging. This approach has been instrumental in guiding my interactions and decision-making process."

Question: Can you share a valuable insight that you learned from George?

Rod: "He emphasized the importance of paying it forward through our actions and experiences. As a veteran leader, I have dedicated my days to sharing my knowledge and experiences with others. His belief in 'each one teach one' resonates deeply with me, reminding me that we all have a responsibility to pay it forward."


Thoughts from Darrell Thompson is the President of Bolder Options about his mentor, Ira Smith.

One mentor who has significantly impacted my life is the unforgettable Ira "Smitty" Smith. It was through his introduction to Bill Steele 34 years ago that I was first introduced to Bolder Options. Smitty was not just a mentor, but a close friend who stood as my first African American role model. We met through my friend and fellow college football captain, Mac, who recognized in Smitty a unique blend of passion and charisma that would enrich my life.

As a mentor, Smitty played a pivotal role in shaping my outlook on life and guiding me towards personal growth and development. His larger-than-life persona, complete with a magnificent mane of hair reminiscent of Don King, exuded a vibrant energy that was contagious. Beneath his big personality, Smitty had a deep commitment to his community and a passion for helping at-risk youth. He actively spoke out against crime and societal injustices, inspiring those around him to take a stand and create positive change.

Through his mentorship, Smitty instilled in me a sense of purpose and a drive to make a difference in the world. His advocacy and unwavering dedication served as a constant source of inspiration, propelling me to take proactive steps towards creating a brighter future for myself and those around me. The impact of his mentorship continues to resonate through the "Smitty Fund," a testament to his legacy and the lasting influence he had on the community. Smitty's mentorship continues to empower individuals, like myself, to strive for a better tomorrow, just as he envisioned.


As we conclude this journey of celebrating Black History Month let us honor the impactful leaders in our local communities who continue to make a difference today. The stories of mentors like George Watson and Ira "Smitty" Smith remind us of the power of mentorship, guidance, and paying it forward. As we celebrate Black excellence, let us remember the present-day leaders who are carrying on the legacy of those who came before them. Let us strive to be like them, to shine positively in the spotlight, and to always be prepared to make a difference in the lives of others. Let us honor their legacy by continuing to uplift and inspire those around us through mentoring.

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