The Gifts of Black Women Mentorship

By Amma Gyamfowa, Reprinted from YouthREX

 YouthREX supported netWORKING: A Young Black Women’s Mentorship Project, an initiative of Toronto’s Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre, to evaluate program impact. REX Blog is sharing reflections from participants on the themes that emerged, and including quotes from mentors who were asked to examine the impacts they witnessed for mentees, themselves, and the community.

A journey towards seeing, uplifting, and creating spaces for Black women and girls is interconnected to Toronto’s Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre’s mandate to holistically enhance racialized women’s health.

In 2017, we began our unique path in cultivating a program specifically to serve the needs of young Black women through the funding of Ontario’s Black Youth Action Plan. Entitled netWORKING: A Young Black Women’s Mentorship Project, our initiative has paired over 100 mentees with mentors and led countless Afrocentric workshops that included, but were not limited to, education, career navigation, mental health, self-care, confidence, and financial literacy.

To begin this journey, we started with researching existing community programs specifically for young Black women in the Greater Toronto Area.

It was not to our surprise that even in a city as diverse as Toronto there were limited programs explicitly led and created solely for Black women.

At the cross sections of race, gender, class, ability, and other diverse facets of our identities, Black women, girls, and folks continuously report feeling silenced, neglected, and unsupported in community, education, and many other social spaces. These realities birthed our program’s intention and need to create spaces that uniquely enrich the lives, resources, abilities, and futures of Black women.

Leading netWORKING for the last several years, we list below the important purpose and impact Black-centered mentorship can have on young women.

1) Self-Affirmation and Discovery

Through the netWORKING program, we heard a plethora of stories and experiences from Black women that highlighted systemic and interpersonal discrimination rooted in anti-Black racism.

Understandably, the aforementioned experiences can harm one’s image of self, value, abilities, community, and access to life-changing resources and opportunities. In creating nurturing spaces that engage young Black women’s ability to reflect, care for themselves, and engage with their community, we provided an environment that enhanced self-affirmation rooted in a healthy image, critical consciousness, and diverse knowledge of Black womanhood.

Mentorship cultivated an undeniable support for young Black women to discover themselves and their strengths, without the backdrop of discriminatory ideas of Blackness and Black women’s capacities. In addition, it offered many points of connection that ultimately allowed participants to support and affirm their peers and teach their mentors.

2)  Intergenerational Healing through Community Connection

Community connection feeds into the health and wellbeing of all community members. From an Afrocentric lens, community connection and relationships are integral as they facilitate intergenerational healing, an increased appreciation of one’s self and heritage, and promote community preservation.

In building a program that created intergenerational connections, we witnessed the capacity of mentoring relationships to enhance Black women’s sense of belonging, resources for healing, and abilities to thrive.

3) Supporting Futures Through Resource Sharing

Mentorship provides access, opportunities, and education that supports the present and futures of youth.

Through each resource provided in the program, we decrease the barriers systemically experienced by Black women. Mentors and peers alike who dedicated their time to the program engaged in community mobilization that provided concrete action to facilitate change, empowerment, and shifting systemic barriers commonly experienced by community members.

How do program mentors describe what it feels like to be part of the netWORKING community? 

  • Mariah Giscombe, netWORKING Mentor, Certified Life Coach, Author & Business Strategist: Being part of the netWORKING Tribe feels like being part of a genuine, uplifting, supportive, and magical sisterhood of phenomenal Black women. In the netWORKING Tribe, I feel seen, understood, and celebrated, and it feels wonderful to be able to contribute to the Tribe’s powerful mission to empower young Black women.
  • Alisha Morgan, netWORKING Mentor, Physiotherapist & Certified Life Coach: Being a part of the netWORKING Tribe feels like true sisterhood. Although the women in this group are so diverse, there is such a deep sense of understanding and belonging in this beautiful community of Black women. This is why I keep coming back year after year! I’ll never forget my first session with the other mentors. I thought I was going in for just a typical training session and I left feeling like I’d been on a retreat. There was laughter, tears, shared experiences, and learning. It was such a cathartic experience. This program had me hooked from day one and I am so grateful that it is a part of my life.

WATCH this video from Women’s Health in Women’s Hands on the netWORKING Tribe:

To access the resource, please click here.