Tina Knowles

Tina Knowles

She is the mother of pop superstars and a force in her own right. But long before we knew her name—or her Deréon fashion line—Tina Knowles was giving back to her hometown of Houston, Texas, by mentoring young people in her community. In fact, during a recent talk with more than a hundred Black men and women who pledged to do the same, Knowles said that she believes the commitment to enveloping children and giving them an encouraging push is so important, that “nothing short of being in the hospital should stop you” from fulfilling it.

Knowles was the featured speaker in “Why Children Must be at the Center of Our Lives,” an hour-long teleconference moderated by author asha bandele for the National CARES Mentoring Movement on May 5. The talk was the sixth in the eight-part "Mentoring Mondays" series  launched by CARES, in partnership with the National Alliance of Faith and Justice’s PEN or PENCIL program, to help Black men and women bring their best selves to mentoring, parenting and guiding our children. The initiative connects listeners with some of the nation’s most inspiring leaders each Monday at 7 p.m. (ET) and will run through the end of May. Past speakers include spiritual teacher the Rev. Dr. Iyanla Vanzant, award-winning journalist Roland S. Martin and Georgetown professor and author Michael Eric Dyson. (You can listen to their calls in entirety here.)

Urging caring adults to “find the best thing about a child and celebrate it,” Knowles said that one of her favorite things to do as a mentor is to encourage young people to think about what they’re good at and support them in it—a philosophy that has worked with daughters Beyoncé and Solange. “When I talk to people I always try to figure out what their talents are, what is wonderful about the person,” she said. “You do the same with kids.”

“When I mentor girls I’ll go around the room and ask them what they want to be or do,” she added. “I’ve heard so many kids say ‘I don’t want to be anything,’ which is really shocking, but it’s because no one has sat down and asked them.”

In speaking of Beyoncé and Solange, Knowles said her daughters have always appreciated that she was never a do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do kind of parent.  “I never asked my children to do something I didn’t show them that I could also do,” she said.

Noting that she never heard her own mother speak negatively about other people, Knowles added, “You have to set the example for your daughters."

This, she said, is also true of mentors, especially in an age where there are so many examples of negative behavior online and on reality TV.

“We live in a time when [bitchiness and backbiting] is the cool thing. There’s a lot of meanness going on in the world,” she said.

Listen to Tina Knowles in full below.