5 Key Takeaways of the 2021 Mentoring Matters Conference

By Kyra Holiday, Jennifer Elliott, & Shihadah “Shay” Saleem, Reprinted from MENTOR New York

It was not ideal to have a conference like the 2021 virtual Mentoring Matters Conference; it was necessary. With the sole focus on elevating racial equity and creating spaces of joy for youth, the conference convened youth development and mentoring professionals like us to dive deeper into the unfinished work of racial justice and equity. 

In our everyday work managing youth and mentoring programs, we have all had these introductory conversations about race and equity, and how it looks on a systemic level, but this conference and the conversations we were having really prepared us for those next level questions that will lead to real systemic change. Throughout the conference, the expert presenters gave staggering statistics to highlight the disadvantages experienced by youth, especially Black and Brown youth, while also highlighting the resilience and leadership that these young people continue to show despite these challenges. 

Among the many things learned during the conference, these are our five top conference takeaways that shaped how we will continue to approach our work with young people at Connections Mentoring and the GOALS for Girls program with Intrepid Museum.

  1. Mentor the whole person. 

I really enjoyed talking about mentoring the whole young person. As an educator myself, we are used to the learning objectives coming first, but that’s only one aspect of mentoring. It’s also about how youth are doing emotionally and socially, and how educators can mentor for those aspects. We cannot assume anything. We as mentoring professionals have to go into the mentoring relationship and be open and supportive of the whole person. Just because someone is smiling does not mean that everything is great. We have to remember that. 

Takeaway by Jennifer Elliott

  1. Mentoring is not a one size fits all. 

For all youth, we have to acknowledge that experience and trauma is ongoing, it is not only in the past, and that trauma has shaped them in different ways. Recent research has shown trauma impacts the way that the brain functions in the future. Our work as a mentoring program is not a one-size fits all solution. 

Dr. Laura Quiros made an incredible point that resonated with me, “Being trauma informed is actively working towards racial equity and justice.” To hear a psychologist say that was very affirming and was a theme that continued throughout the conference. This hit upon the core idea that in order to limit the re-traumatization in youth, we need to actively work towards prioritizing mental health, which directly correlates interweaving the importance of racial equity and social justice into all aspects of our programs. 

Additionally, we have to consider the historical implications that racial trauma is a major part of the traumatic load. We talk about youth and assume they behave a certain way because of trauma, but fail to acknowledge how the roots of trauma impact how children interact in our systems. 

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

  1. Give youth agency over their expression.

The conference encouraged mentors to embrace the different ways that their mentees communicate. We want youth to have more of a say in our process, similar to nothing about them, should happen without them. We know that the majority of programs in social services are not based on determining factors. We also know that our younger generations communicate differently than previous generations. Knowing all of this, We have an obligation to encourage and guide mentors to take a different approach to affirm different types of expressions from different generations. We are empowering our mentors to be even more flexible and challenge themselves to communicate with young people differently, which will ultimately strengthen their relationship. 

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

  1. Building program structure to ingrain equity. 

For me, going over how to create and effectively use logic models with Jack Kavanaugh really helped. I will re-introduce it to Intrepid Museum’s youth programs to create a more concrete way to set goals and new milestones for the next school year. I am not a novice to logic models, but it was useful to participate in the breakout rooms and speak with other youth professionals about each other’s programs and share best practices and tips. 

The logic models are really helpful to review progress on my program goals and outcomes. Now I can ask, “What story can I tell this year with a logic model about working with youth during COVID?” 

Takeaway by Shay Saleem

The conference emphasized it is important to understand what mentoring IS and IS NOT for your program. Set those guidelines and expectations for your program so that when you go and find mentors, you can do more targeted recruiting. Mentor matching should be evaluated case by case, because the needs of each young person vary.

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

  1. Allow youth to own their stories. 

The youth panel spoke loud and clear about what they want most from their mentors. “Let us tell our stories.” 

To hear this was as important to them as it is to us as educators, authority figures, leaders, and mentors, to get that from a young person was really affirmative in the work that we do. 


Takeaway by Jennifer Elliott

The conference reinforced for me to continue providing youth with platforms to share their experiences and all the authenticity it needs to be in whatever frame, language, and way they need to express themselves. To celebrate that and be culturally responsible and responsive as mentors. We have to understand and give space for more youth experiences and the role mentors play in support of youth sharing their experiences and journeys. 


Takeaway by Shay Saleem

We have to allow youth to be comfortable with their stories; it should empower them. 

Allowing youth to own their own stories will help them embrace themselves and become leaders. Youth should be able to come into themselves without influence, and mentors can be that person to tell them they can do that and support them in the process. 

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

How can you learn more?

The content of the Mentoring Matters Conference was framed around MENTOR New York’s Racial Equity Framework. Review the Framework and contact MENTOR New York to learn more about how your program can review its practices and/or implement elements of the Framework into your work with young people.

If you missed the Mentoring Matters Conference and want to learn more, you can purchase the recordings here.

To access the resource, please click here.