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Youth of Color

Youth of ColorMany youth mentoring programs have long emphasized providing caring adult relationships to youth from different racial and ethnic groups. Sometimes this is done directly through mentoring services that are built around racial or cultural practices or that emphasize building positive racial identity in the face of societal oppression. In other cases, this happens indirectly as programs target a cross-section of youth from disadvantaged circumstances in a community that may have an overrepresentation of youth of color (or at least certain racial and ethnic groups).

Currently, the field includes substantial numbers of mentoring services targeting specific racial or ethnic groups (such as programming specifically for Native youth or African American youth) as well as an emphasis in many mentoring programs more generally on providing culturally competent and relevant services for youth of color. Practitioners are also taking note of the role that race and culture play in the effective formation and support of mentoring relationships and are putting considerable effort into recruiting mentors with racial and ethnic backgrounds that are reflective of the youth they serve.

In theory, mentoring relationships with caring adults can be supportive to youth of color in a variety of ways, as noted in the 2014 Handbook of Youth Mentoring’s chapter on race, ethnicity, and culture in mentoring relationships:

  • Helping build positive racial and ethnic identity⎯this may be especially critical for youth from groups that have faced considerable discrimination or exploitation.

  • Helping to offset the impact of oppression or systemic racism⎯mentors may be instrumental in helping youth understand or overcome societal barriers to their success.

  • Providing exposure to different cultures or institutions⎯mentors with a different racial or ethnic background from their mentees can expose youth to new networks of adults and new opportunities within and outside their communities.

But current theory also suggests that these benefits from mentoring will be difficult to achieve if mentors lack the cultural competence and understanding to effectively work with youth of color or if the youth themselves hold high levels of cultural mistrust that inhibits their ability to bond with a mentor who may be from a different race or background. Bernadette Sanchez’s recent literature review examines the effectiveness of mentoring for Black male youth and discusses further factors that influence whether mentoring services are effective for this youth population. Some of the recommendations based on insights from this review include:

  • Recognize that Black boys are likely to vary in their individual needs and, thus, in the specific types of mentoring supports that might be most effective.
  • Take care to ensure that mentors of Black boys receive appropriate training about issues of race, culture, and gender.
  • Recruit mentors with appropriate skills (e.g., teaching or advocacy experience) and cultural competency to mentor Black boys effectively.
  • Consider activities and strategies that help Black boys to identify, and increase support from, the existing mentoring and resources they have in their lives.
  • Consider how efforts to provide mentoring for Black boys can be linked to the fight for larger social justice goals for these youth and their communities.

To support mentoring programs in implementing practices that are specific to the experiences of boys and young men of color, in 2016, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBKA) together developed a guidebook “Guide to Mentoring Boys and Young Men of Color". The Guide serves as a supplement to the fourth edition of the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ and provides additional recommended practices focusing on boys and young men of color (BYMOC), including those described in the excerpts below:

  • A strengths-based approach:

    “While the challenges facing BYMOC have been well documented, much less attention has been given to the strengths of these individuals and their communities. A strengths-based approach to mentoring can positively impact a significant proportion of BYMOC whose life contexts and societal perceptions and experiences may be quite different than other youth. Through strong relationships with mentors, the impact of the challenges BYMOC face can be mitigated and their strengths and the strengths of their communities, families, and cultures can be drawn on to bolster their potential for success. Like schools and other youth-serving institutions, mentoring programs find success through delivering culturally relevant services, developing the strengths of those they serve, and building on the assets of the local community.”

  • A critical mentoring approach:

    “To support BYMOC, it is recommended that programs consider using an approach to mentoring that has been termed “critical mentoring” (Weiston-Serdan, 2015). Critical mentoring is focused on the development of a critical consciousness in mentors and mentees. Critical consciousness is the ability to perceive and understand social, political, and economic oppression; to be able to deal with such issues; and to be ready to take action against oppressive elements of society. Beginning with an understanding of youth context, critical mentoring allows the mentoring relationship to focus on providing mentees with opportunities to reflect, discuss, as well as challenge systems of inequity…The power of this approach is that it can help youth avoid being undermined by these forces, and instead help them thrive in the face of adverse circumstances through personal development and supports that build perseverance.”

What does the research say about mentoring youth of color?

The above noted chapter in the 2014 Handbook noted that “much of the research on the role of race, ethnicity, and culture in mentoring is correlational and cross-sectional and based on small sample sizes.” and did not offer conclusions about key questions such as the efficacy of mentoring for either youth of color in general or those belonging to specific racial or ethnic groups.

A recent NMRC review of mentoring for Black male youth specifically found there is some preliminary evidence that:

  • Both formal and informal mentoring have the potential to benefit Black boys in a range of areas, including academics (e.g., grades), social-emotional well-being (e.g., relationships with others), mental health (e.g., alcohol use), and preventing risky behaviors (e.g., sexual activity);
  • Cultural mistrust may influence Black boys’ perceptions of their White mentors and thus the quality of their relationships with them.
  • Mentoring may be able to lessen the negative effects of racial discrimination on Black boys.
  • Group mentoring approaches seem to support Black male youth’s social emotional development through group processes (e.g., unity, brotherhood, trust).
  • Mentoring that promotes Black boys’ racial identity may in turn facilitate positive effects in other aspects of their lives (e.g., academic outcomes). This process may be facilitated by connecting Black male youth with mentors who have shared life experiences; engaging Black men as mentors has the potential to be useful in this regard, although it should be noted that research to inform the possible merits of this strategy is largely lacking.
  • Research suggests that Black men are more likely to serve as informal rather than formal mentors and that they experience barriers to serving as mentors in formal mentoring programs.
  • Developing close and supportive mentoring relationships may be a mechanism by which mentoring promotes positive outcomes in Black boys.
  • Black boys may have less access to informal mentors compared to Black girls.

Current political and cultural events in the United States have forced the issues of racial discrimination and systemic oppression into the spotlight for policymakers, researchers, and those running youth mentoring programs. This will hopefully lead to innovations in both programs and research that can help improve the quality and effectiveness of mentoring for youth of color.

What does the NMRC offer on mentoring youth of color?

Broad Evidence Reviews

  • Read the population review, Mentoring for Black Male Youth for more detail on the evidence specific to mentoring for Black male youth described above.

Reviews of Specific Programs

  • The Achievement Mentoring Program (AMP) is an intervention for urban minorityi freshman at risk of dropping out of high school, with the goal of enhancing school-related cognitions and behaviors. Read the review and accompanying insights for practitioners.

  • Supporting Adolescents with Guidance and Employment (SAGE) is a violence prevention program for African American male adolescents living in Durham, NC, which sought to reduce the disproportionate rate of violence among this population through a multifaceted community-based approach, including Afrocentric guidance and instructional approach with a mentoring aspect. Read the review.

  • The Promotor Pathways Program is a program that uses a caring adult, called a Promotor, to provide case management, mentoring, and advocacy for youths served at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in the Washington, D.C. area. Read the review and accompanying insights for practitioners.

Reviews of Relevant Practices

  • Training for mentors on cultural competence can help facilitate effective mentoring relationships with youth from diverse cultural backgrounds. Read the review of the practice of Mentor Training for Cultural Competence and the accompanying insights for practitioners.

  • Support for Mentor Advocacy may be a relevant practice for mentoring programs working with youth of color who have been disenfranchised or impacted by oppressive systems. Read the review of this practice and accompanying insights for practitioners.

Blog Posts


Implementation Resources

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)’s Investments in Mentoring
for Youth of Color

  • OJJDP provides broad support for mentoring organizations serving diverse youth from racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as organizations that work to meet the needs of underserved young people from specific racial and ethnic groups. Many of OJJDP’s initiatives, such as the Second Chance Act, drive interventions in systems or settings where youth of color are overrepresented in an effort to alleviate racial and ethnic injustice.
  • Over the past several years, OJJDP has funded several, multi-state mentoring organizations that focus on meeting the needs of African American young people through mentoring: Alphi Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Go-to-High-School, Go-to-College Program and the National Urban League’s Project Ready program.
  • Also funded by OJJDP, The ASPIRA Association provides a mentoring program focusing on the needs of Hispanicii youth, as does Nueva Esperanza’s Real Time Mentoring Program. Southwest Key Programs provide culturally relevant mentoring programming to Latino and African American youth – learn more here
  • OJJDP supports numerous initiatives to address the needs of Native American and Tribal young people, including Tribal Juvenile Healing to Wellness Courts, Tribal Youth Program and Tribal Youth Program Training and Technical Assistance. The National Indian Youth Leadership Project is also a recent OJJDP mentoring grantee.

Select Additional Reading and Resources

  • Critical Mentoring: A Practical Guide (2017) by Torie Weiston-Serdan explores key considerations for mentoring practitioners to assist them in delivering programming that is affirming of the intersecting facets of youth identity, including race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity.
  • MENTOR has partnered with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance to provide a series of six webinars that review best practices for designing effective mentoring services for boys and young men of color.
  • The Essentials: A Curriculum for Training People Who Mentor Young Black Men is delivered by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to support mentoring organizations that are interested in facilitating trainings for mentors of young Black men. If you would like more information about the Essentials trainings, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

i  This term, though not preferred, was included as it was written in the original program description.
ii  This term refers to a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture. It is included as it was described in the original program description.

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