More Than Black and Brown Faces: Diversity in Mentoring

By Marty Martinez

Marty MartinezAs we celebrate and raise awareness of Black History Month, it is important for the mentoring movement to take stock of our efforts to be inclusive and accessible to all communities. As practitioners, we hear time and time again that mentoring programs and youth development organizations need more volunteer mentors of color. Right next to needing more money to operate effectively, programs speak most of their need to diversify their pool of mentors and to ensure that more caring adults serving in their programs reflect the communities they are working in and the families they are supporting. In Massachusetts, the latest data from Mass Mentoring Counts 2014 shows that while over 75% of youth served are from communities of color, less than 30% of mentors are.

Programs talk of their efforts to build connections and relationships within communities of color to help them recruit more adults and to ensure that they have a pool of mentors that reflect the young people being served. Not only do programs understand this as an important best practice but oftentimes families are requesting mentors of the same race and background. They have a desire to have role models that their children can relate to and look up to. However, ensuring that programs are more inclusive and are able to diversify their pool of volunteer mentors is about a lot more than just black and brown faces.

Assessing whether a program is inclusive and diverse goes well beyond counting the number of mentors of color serving in the program. It extends into programmatic practices, organizational leadership, staff composition and the level of true community engagement. Too often program staff and practitioners talk about the strategies that have been put in place to recruit African American and Latino mentors to serve in their agency without talking about the internal strategies that need to be implemented to build a more culturally competent organization. Programs must ask themselves:

  • Are we an organization that promotes inclusion and diversity through our program practices from training and match support to recruitment and marketing?
  • Do we have staff and leadership that are reflective of the communities we are engaged in and/or do we offer comprehensive cultural competency training to our employees to build knowledge and awareness in this area?
  • Do we form meaningful and reciprocal relationships in the community with diverse groups that do not just revolve around what we can get from them in terms of diverse volunteers but speak to how we can also support their work in the community?

Mentoring programs, while serving the diversity of young people in the community, must ensure that efforts to strengthen diverse mentor recruitment also focus on those organizational and programmatic practices. That focus will help make their efforts more culturally competent and better able to build the connections needed to be successful. As we celebrate Black History Month with match stories and the impact that mentoring has had in the African American community, it is important that we dig below the surface and do the hard work that is needed to ensure that we are building a movement that’s as inclusive and accessible as possible.