In their own words: What young people of colour want in mentors

The real test of racial justice is to see diversity in leadership, but nurturing new leaders takes time

By Winnie Lui, Broadview

In the wake of racially-charged events of 2020, many organizations have pledged to address racial justice. Some, such as the National Basketball Association, have used their clout to make bold statements.

The real test of racial justice is to see diversity among leadership and places of influence, voice, decision-making authority and access to resources. Yet, leaders are nurtured and fostered over time. In order to see more representation in various spheres of society, we need to invest today in younger people who have potential. 

Start here. Listen below as three young adults speak on what they need from leaders right now.  

Ariel Gough. (Photo: Jennifer MacPhee/Love You Squared Photography)

Name: Ariel Gough, 26

Hometown: Halifax, N.S.

Ariel Gough is the co-founder and CEO of Bailly Cosmetics Inc. She is also a TEDx speaker, policy advisor, and champion for youth leadership.

  1. What specific things can leaders do to help younger people of colour grow and thrive?

When interacting with young people, interact with them in a way that tells them you believe in them and that they can do it. Secondly, provide them with opportunities to make real change and also to gain meaningful experience.

  1. What do you most appreciate about influential mentors and leaders in your life?

Their authenticity. They know who they are. They’ve taken the time to get to know what they want, their story, and how their story has contributed to the person that they are — and they’re willing to share that. They always make me feel welcome and make space for me. They are invested not only in themselves and their own success, but in my success.

  1. What are some mentoring best practices that you’ve used and also recommend?

Show interest. I would encourage mentors to check in on their mentees, on a regular basis, and proactively see how you can help. Do what you say you were going to do — that’s so important. If you say you were going to make connections, then make sure that you send that email. If you were going to review their work or provide them with guidance, feedback and advice, then take the time to do it. Lastly, be consistent. Make the time if that person is important to you.

Kenny Leung. (Photo: Gloria Wong)

Name: Kenny Leung, 24

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

Kenny Leung is a respiratory therapist on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic who, as an educator, prioritizes connection when mentoring new leaders.

  1. What specific things can leaders do to help younger people of colour grow and thrive?

Live your genuine, authentic life, honouring the stories that you bring to the table, because you do bring a different perspective. It’s really cool to see different people’s stories, especially coming from different cultural backgrounds, and seeing, with the perspectives that they bring, how they execute (plans) and what kinds of decisions they make because they have a different perspective.

  1. What do you most appreciate about influential mentors and leaders in your life?

The people whom I really admire are people who find a really good way of balancing vulnerability. Leaders who are able to lean into the uncertainty of things, to be able to say, “I don’t know,” but confidently. Instead of beating around the bush, (to answer) no and this is why, these are the reasons. To be truthful, even when it’s not what you want to hear, but you’re grateful that the person is being authentic about it.

  1. What are some mentoring best practices that you’ve used and also recommend?

Choose courage over comfort. I encourage people to go for the harder things, because you’ll be surprised at how tough you’re built. Make space for vulnerability. I find more often than not…when people are coming up to you with problems and issues that they have, your first reaction is to want to fix it. (Instead,) lean into the discomfort of it. If it’s a hard conversation, be able to hold space for the uncomfortable.

Aliya Coy. (Photo: Scott Stewart)

Name: Aliya Coy, 20

Hometown: Calgary, Alta.

Aliya Coy plays defence on the Trinity Western Spartans women’s soccer team, and she is also the team’s spiritual leader. A corporate communications major, Aliya’s dream is to one day become a humanitarian journalist.

  1. What specific things can leaders do to help younger people of colour grow and thrive?

I think it is super important for young individuals of different races to feel understood and that they belong in their community. Being young and understanding the discrepancies that exist among different races can be discouraging, which can lead to many of these individuals feeling not important or valued among their peers, when in fact, their opinions and perspectives are just as needed. 

  1. What do you most appreciate about influential mentors and leaders in your life?

Because they know what I expect of myself, they are then able to hold up the mirror and keep me accountable in my daily life. Having people in my life that I feel comfortable expressing my deepest hurts and desires to is such a relieving feeling because I no longer have to hold it all to myself. 

  1. What are some mentoring best practices that you’ve used and also recommend?

I always try to fully understand what the true desires of that person is, so they feel known and empowered to do everything they can to accomplish what it is they’re passionate about. When trying to inspire today’s youth, I would simply take an approach of challenging them to be unapologetically themselves and not try to fit a mold of any sort. No matter what colour your skin is, this world needs you. 

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