New study explores the reciprocal benefits of cross-racial mentoring relationships


Jones, K., Parra-Cardona, R., Sánchez, B., Vohra-Gupta, S., & Franklin, C. (2023). Motivations, program support, and personal growth: Mentors perspectives on the reciprocal benefits of cross-racial mentoring relationships with black youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 150, 106996.

There is a lack of research on how mentors’ motivations, personal experiences, and support from the mentoring program impact cross-racial mentoring relationships. Furthermore, the benefits mentors receive from cross-racial community-based mentoring relationships (CBM) have been understudied.

Understanding these issues in the context of cross-racial mentoring relationships is especially important for Black youth, as they comprise the largest demographic receiving CBM in the United States (Garringer et al., 2017). However, Black youth are often matched with mentors of different racial/ethnic identities, cultural backgrounds, and social classes (Albright et al., 2017; Garringer et al., 2017; Sánchez et al., 2014). Examining these cross-racial relationships is critical, as mentoring relationships may begin with non-Black mentors having negative biases about Black youth and their backgrounds (Hughes et al., 2009; Priest et al., 2018).

In an interesting new study,  Professor Kristian Jones and colleagues explored (a) the motivations of non-Black mentors who volunteer to mentor in a CBM program, (b) the program components that supported non-Black mentors during their cross-racial mentoring relationship with a Black youth, and (c) how non-Black mentors grow personally from the mentoring experience with a Black youth and their family. The participants were 28 current and former volunteer mentors from six different community-based Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) mentoring programs across the United States. The majority of mentors identified as non-Hispanic White (89.6%), with slightly more male participants (53.6%) than female. Most mentors reported having more than two years of experience mentoring a Black youth as a volunteer for BBBS.  In-depth, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with mentors via video calling or phone between November 2020 and February 2021. Interviews lasted 60-120 minutes, and participants were compensated $20. Data were analyzed using constructivist grounded theory (CGT) approach, involving memoing, initial coding, focused coding, and constant comparative method (Charmaz, 2006, 2014; Timonen et al., 2018).

Three major themes emerged from the data:

Personal factors influence desire to mentor and interactions within relationship

Mentors discussed how their values, upbringing, and current life events impacted their desire to become a mentor and influenced their interactions within the relationship. While no mentors reported specific motivations to mentor Black youth prior to volunteering, many highlighted how race-related factors impacted their interactions and led to increased personal growth.

Mentors desired ongoing cultural sensitivity support 

Mentors identified program components such as screening and matching, training, and ongoing support as essential factors in their mentoring experience. They appreciated the cultural sensitivity training but expressed the need for additional support throughout the relationship to help with conversations on race and culture. [Side note: on demand mentor training like MentorPRO Academy may be one strategy for achieving this].

Mentors gained new perspectives and social awareness

Mentors reported achieving personal growth through their interactions with their mentee and gaining a family-like connection. They discussed being exposed to new perspectives, values, and interests, as well as cultivating social awareness and recognizing their privileges. Many mentors expressed that the experience was one of the best decisions they had made in their life.


These findings align with previous research on mentors’ motivations stemming from a combination of intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, and social factors (Chacón et al., 2017; Shier et al., 2020) and literature emphasizing the importance of program support in facilitating positive outcomes and preventing premature termination of mentoring relationships.

Mentors reported gaining a deeper understanding of the barriers faced by marginalized youth (Rhodes, 2020), developing tangible skills (Meltzer & Saunders, 2020; Worker et al., 2020), and achieving personal growth through exposure to different perspectives and increased social awareness. This has implications for mentoring programs and practitioners, highlighting the potential to recruit mentors by offering opportunities for personal growth and exposure to cultural wealth.