The Case for More Mentors of Color
Every January, hundreds of mentoring programs across the United States celebrate National Mentoring Month. For many educators, mentors, mentees, and families, National Mentoring Month is a time to reflect on the positive impact that mentoring has made in their lives. In September and October 2019, DonCARES of Philadelphia matched 12 high school students of color at The U School with college student mentors of color from Temple University. Although DonCARES is steadily closing the opportunity gap, several students and youth in the Philadelphia will grow up without a mentor.
"1 out of 3 youth will grow up without a mentor."
It is all too common in under-served neighborhoods that students grow up without having a positive role-model and mentor. For those who do, they can attest to the positive impact having a mentor has had on their overall self-esteem and ideas of personal achievement.
In areas where there are institutes of higher education, the mentoring impact should be at its highest. In Philadelphia, universities such as Temple, Drexel, and the University of Penn readily have mentoring organizations available for public school students. However, the need for mentors in some of the city's lesser-known high schools is at an all-time high.
Access to the aforementioned organizations and their resources are not available to ALL students. In addition, diversity in the student pool of these organizations is lacking. In addition, some organizations have "savior" undertones where mentors believe tutoring students in low-income and primary communities of color is somehow saving them. The truth is, it's not.
Many educators believe that mentoring is necessary for their students' success. In a nation where black male teachers are rare, more male mentors who volunteer their time in otherwise neglected schools can help. Some may ask, help with what? The answer is: "help with- assignments, conflict-resolution, resume development, increased self-esteem, and ideas of achievement..." just to name a few appropriate answers.
In addition, It is important to note that mentoring doesn't work unless it's backed by cultural-competency, care, and consistency. If you are looking for a one-time service opportunity for your student organization, it's best to opt out of mentoring. Although your presence can make a difference if you are looking to make an impact, aim for consistency.
DonCARES of Philadelphia, Inc. Executive Director Donovan Forrest believes that one-on-one mentoring is one way to lessen the strain on community relations. "Many of the issues in our community surrounding community and university-relations stem from the lack of inclusiveness when dealing with university resources. Many of the well-funded organizations in low-income areas only serve top-performing students in the school district. Thus, creating an even deeper divide between college students and community members." Forrest says.
Forrest suggests that mentoring organizations double down on diversity, not only in recruiting more students of color to serve as mentors and tutors but working more with students who may deal with behavioral issues but show promise of achievement.
Forrest and countless others argue that it is important for well-funded organizations to consider that instead of closing their doors to "at-risk" students, they should open them. When mentees see their mentors are twenty-something-year-old college students of color their perspective of what can be achieved can change. It may take time, but the time and resources are worth the investment.
In a city where over 60,000 kids live under the poverty guideline, and 1/3 youth will grow up without a mentor, we believe our "why" is clear. At DonCARES, we believe that the people who represent higher education and academic success matter. When our high school students see their mentors are twenty-something-year-old college students of color, their perspective of what can be achieved can change.
Research suggests that young adults who were at-risk for falling off track but had a mentor are: 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% and more likely to volunteer regularly, 90% are interested in becoming a mentor, and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions (Mentoring Impact). Here at DonCARES, we believe mentoring is one of the most important factors in our students' success, which is why we dedicate ourselves to mentoring those who need it most.
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