How White mentors address social justice topics in cross-racial, community-based mentorships

Jones, K., Parra-Cardona, R., Sánchez, B., Vohra-Gupta, S., & Franklin, C. (2022). All things considered: Examining mentoring relationships between White mentors and Black youth in community-based youth mentoring programs. Child & Youth Care Forum.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Community-based youth mentorships are prominent interventions for Black youth and other underrepresented youth.
    • However, most volunteer mentors in community-based youth mentoring programs are White (non-Hispanic).
  • There are many questions about how White mentors should address cultural-related issues that affect their Black mentees.
  • This study assesses a) how White mentors address racial socialization, racial/ethnic identity, and oppression with their mentees and b) how White mentors’ awareness of their privileges and positionality affect how they tackle these subjects.
  • Although most of the mentors discussed subjects related to racial identity with their mentees, only a few of them engaged in culturally-focused activities that encouraged their mentees to embrace their racial/ethnic identity.
  • Less than half of the sample had discussions about processing social justice issues and instances of racial discrimination with their mentees. Some of them pointedly rejected the discrimination their mentees face.
  • Some of the mentors recognized that their mentees spoke to them differently than with their families and peers.
  • Some of them also felt unprepared to discuss these subjects with their mentees.
  • Most of the participants stated that mentoring Black youth made them more aware of their privileges.
  • Mentoring programs need to consider how their core approaches address Black youths’ needs.
  • Researchers need to examine how community-based mentoring programs can promote socio-political awareness and bolster racial/ethnic identity among Black youth.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)


Community-based youth mentoring programs are popular interventions that serve a large number of Black youths throughout the country. Interestingly, the majority of mentors who volunteer their time for mentoring organizations identify as non-Hispanic White. This study examines how White mentors address topics acknowledging ethnic/racial identity and issues centered around social justice and recognize their own privileges when mentoring Black youth in community-based youth mentoring programs.


The aims of the current study were to examine: (a) whether and how White volunteer mentors address ethnic/racial identity, racial socialization, and oppression in the mentoring relationship and (b) how White mentors’ awareness of their own positionality and privilege impacted how they addressed ethnic/racial identity, racial socialization, and oppression in the mentoring relationship with Black youth.


Utilizing a constructivist grounded theory approach, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 current and former mentors from six different Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based mentoring programs across the United States.


Findings reveal that some mentors felt uncomfortable discussing issues centered around race and others do not think it is relevant at all. Further, findings demonstrated that mentoring Black youth significantly impacts mentors’ perceived awareness of social issues and acknowledgment of privileges they hold.


Current findings highlight the need for youth mentoring programs to provide training and resources to help White mentors discuss implications of race and broader social justice issues with the Black youth they mentor.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study examined how White mentors addressed topics related to ethnic/racial identity and social justice, while acknowledging their own privileges when mentoring Black youth in community-based youth mentoring programs. The majority of mentors had conversations with youth related to their Black identity. However, a small minority of mentors utilized culturally focused activities (e.g., visiting an African American museum exhibit) to help youth embrace their ethnic/racial identities. This is a significant finding, as empirical research indicates that mentoring programs can constitute an ideal avenue to promote ethnic/racial identity development among Black youth (Gordon et al., 2009; Sánchez et al., 2018). Thus, mentors and mentoring programs that fail to promote aspects of ethnic/racial identity miss a significant opportunity to cultivate identity development among Black youth.

Some of the mentors noticed differences in how their mentees spoke when spending time with them, in contrast to the language they used when interacting with family members and peers. This indicates the mentors’ acknowledgement of the phenomenon known as code switching (i.e., altering speech between different speaking styles depending on one’s context; Gaither et al., 2015). It is unclear how the perceived code switching impacted the relationship between the mentor and the mentee. It is possible the mentor’s oversight of code switching could have been associated with missed opportunities for mentors to acknowledge and address racial differences in language and learn from their mentee (Baker-Bell, 2017). Applying what is known about how cross-cultural communicators continually negotiate respect for their identities (e.g., cultural identity theory, identity management theory, facework) can help mentors and mentoring programs promote more skilled, identity-alert communication among youth and mentors from differing cultural backgrounds (see Collier, 2005; Imahori & Cupach, 2005).

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