August 6, 2020

Growing up as a Black millennial woman in a predominantly white suburb, the first time I really connected with Black youth—other than the one or two in my classrooms—was in a high school peer mentorship program for Black students. Since then, I have participated in many mentoring programs for people of historically underrepresented races and ethnicities in the United States.

At the heart of mentoring for racial equity is building relationships that encourage self-advocacy. This approach helps individuals overcome inequitable circumstances, affirms multifaceted identities, and fosters a relationship where the mentor and mentee teach and learn from one another. It connects mentees to opportunities, resources, and people that can help them develop their existing skills and increase their visibility. Mentoring does not make inequitable systems equitable, but it can increase people’s access to important relationships, experiences, and platforms they can use to thrive.

Mentoring for racial equity can take on various forms beyond the traditional one in which a mentor is considered the primary teacher and a mentee the learner, and these many forms can be leveraged to promote equity. For example:

  • Students who identify as Black, Latino/Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, or from another underrepresented population in the United States, can help their peers feel more connected to their school and their classrooms by forming groups to celebrate their cultural heritage, encouraging peers to join extracurricular activities, or collaborating on a community project.
  • Parents, coaches, teachers, and other community members can serve as an informal mentoring network. EDC’s 7th Generation National Tribal Mentoring program and the Empleando Futuros program paired youth with local community members who shared their culture. Such programs can help youth develop their self-identity and build confidence.
  • In workplaces, colleagues can share their experiences with race and culture in the workplace and along their career pathways. EDC’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee piloted an internal Mentoring Program in Spring 2020 to provide space for such conversations.

There’s no need to wait for a formal invitation to mentor or to be mentored. Send that email or LinkedIn friend request to someone whose work you admire. Start building a relationship of trust, mutual respect, openness, and advocacy with your neighbors, peers, and colleagues.

 Camille Lemieux is a research associate and co-chair of the Pathways to Leadership Subcommittee at EDC, which provides internal professional development programs and activities that help build long-term leadership capacity for diverse cohorts of employees.



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