Creating a Culturally Relevant Mentoring Program for Girls of Color

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 3.22.16 PMBy Bernadette Sanchez, Ph.D.

Not too long ago, my colleagues and I created a mentoring program, called GirlPOWER!, for African American and Latina early adolescent girls. Our goal was to ensure that the program was gender specific as well as culturally and developmentally appropriate. We created the program in collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters Metropolitan Chicago, and our team was a racially/ethnically diverse group of mostly women. More information is provided about the process and the program in other sources (DuBois et al., 2008; Pryce et al., 2010). Below I outline some of the strategies we employed but added additional ones that you might find useful for your mentoring program for girls of color.

1. Gather stakeholders’ views about the needs of girls of color.We interviewed parents, mentors, mentees and staff members about the issues that they thought were important to address when serving African American and Latina girls. They also provided feedback on ideas we had about issues we thought were important. Gathering the views and opinions of stakeholders can be done in various ways; you can hold focus groups or interview people one-on-one. Or you can have workshops in which individuals have small group discussions and then share out to the larger group about the specific needs of girls of color. We conducted one-on-one interviews with the various stakeholders, which worked well for us because we were able to do the interviews at a location and date/time that was convenient for the participants.

2. Review the research literature about the specific racial and cultural processes that play a role in the healthy development of girls of color. Solid programs begin with research; it’s always a good idea to begin there. For instance, we found that a healthy ethnic/racial identity was important in promoting other positive outcomes (e.g., academic achievement) for youth of color. We also found that the role of racial discrimination took a negative toll on the development of girls of color. Thus, in our program we addressed how to promote a positive racial/ethnic identity as well as how to cope with discrimination in a healthy manner.

3. Do your program leadership, staff and mentors include members of the cultural group you plan to serve? A very important question to ask. If not, the organization leadership needs to reflect on why that is and get out to recruit leaders, staff, and mentors who are from the target group. Having a diverse set of adults in the organization will help girls of color feel like they belong and provide role models, but will also hold the organization and program accountable to better serve girls of color in a culturally appropriate way.

4. Arrange for consultants from the community (e.g., tribal elders) to help enhance the cultural relevance of your program.Whether these consultants serve on an advisory board that meets periodically to review and reflect on the program as girls’ needs evolve or participates in community centered evaluations of program outcomes, it is essential that these community experts be included in an ongoing way.

5. Provide training to staff and mentors to enhance their cultural humility and to reflect on social justice and inequality in our society. Train mentors and staff on the following: a) to reflect on their own privilege, assumptions, and biases about girls of color, b) the specific needs and issues faced by girls of color, c) oppression and social justice issues experienced by girls of color, and d) how to apply this knowledge to mentoring girls of color.

Bernadette Sánchez is an Associate Professor of Psychology at DePaul University. 


This piece appeared originally in Critical Perspectives
Pryce, J., Silverthorn, N., Sánchez, B., & DuBois, D.L. (2010). GirlPOWER!: Strengthening mentoring relationships through a structured, gender-specific program. New Directions for Youth Development, 126, 89-105.
DuBois, D. L., Silverthorn, N., Pryce, J., Reeves, E., Sanchez, B., Silva, A., Ansu, A. A., Haqq, S., & Takehara, J. (2008). Mentorship: The GirlPOWER! program. In C. W. Leroy & J. E. Mann (Eds.), Handbook of preventive and intervention programs for adolescent girls. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.