Supporting mentors in cross-racial matches with Black youth: Insights from Dr. Kristian Jones

A new study has been published highlighting the experiences of mentors in cross-racial matches with Black youth. Megyn Jasman interviewed leading author Dr. Kristian Jones, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, on findings and recommendations for mentoring programs supporting cross-racial matches.

Q: Program components and support are crucial in fostering successful mentoring relationships. From the mentor’s perspective, what were the key program components that supported them throughout their cross-racial mentoring relationships? Were there any specific challenges or areas where mentors felt they needed more support, particularly in addressing racial and cultural differences?

A: Mentors expressed that the support from the mentoring program started before they even met their mentees. Specifically, mentors discussed how the screening and matching done by Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) was extremely helpful in building rapport and forming a genuine connection with their mentee early in the relationship. It’s really important to acknowledge that BBBS is a well-resourced organization, so the program components like screening and matching may look a bit different for smaller mentoring programs with less funding and resources. In regard to racial and cultural differences, some mentors talked about receiving cultural sensitivity training before their match began. However, mentors who worked with youth who had experienced racial discrimination (e.g., police harassment, unfair school disciplinary action) expressed the need for more ongoing training and/or specific support focused on racial and cultural topics throughout the relationship not just the initial trainings. 

Q: The study highlights the personal growth experienced by mentors in cross-racial mentoring relationships. Could you elaborate on how mentors gained new perspectives, increased social awareness, and developed stronger communication skills through their interactions with their mentees? Did mentors discuss any specific examples or instances where their personal growth was particularly profound?

A: Almost every mentor I interviewed for this study discussed this was one of the most fulfilling experiences of their lives. The increased social awareness mainly resulted in greater awareness of their White privilege and/or financial/economic privilege. For example, one mentor discussed how they reflected on their financial/economic privilege by seeing firsthand how hard and often his mentee’s mom works with very little time for herself during the week. Another mentor reflected on his experiences in his high school after his mentee pointed out how overcrowded and under-resourced their school was for them. One mentor even discussed watching the Netflix documentary, 13TH to increase their knowledge about mass incarceration; something they admitted they probably would not have done if it was not for the conversations with their mentee. Mentors also grew from the privilege of getting to learn from a family that was from a different racial/ethnic and/or socio-economic background than their own and gained tangible skills, such as being a better communicator as a result of being a mentor. 

Q: In your conclusion, you mention the need for future studies to consider the training and support provided to non-Black mentors in addressing racial differences with their mentees. Based on your findings, what are some potential strategies or recommendations for mentoring programs to enhance training and support for mentors engaging in cross-racial mentoring relationships with Black youth?

A: The biggest recommendation would be for mentoring programs to utilize the assets in the youth’s community and work together to create a network of support for the youth. This could be intentionally collaborating with the youth’s family members, teachers, sports coaches, their barbershop, or a community center. Yosso’s (2005) Cultural Wealth Model provides an excellent example of how to value the assets and strengths one already has in their community. It would also be great if mentoring programs utilized the lived experiences of those from the community and/or with shared identities of the youth in their mentoring program. For example, if someone does not have the capacity or the credentials (i.e., unable to pass a background check) to be a full-time mentor for an organization like BBBS, they should still be recruited to provide trainings and sit on committees and boards while being compensated for their time and expertise. 

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), 69-91.