Toolkit on Effective Mentoring for Youth
Facing Barriers to Success

Best practices and resources to build, strengthen, evaluate and sustain effective mentoring programs for youth considered at high-risk of under education, unemployment, homelessness, criminalization, and other negative outcomes.

Racialized Youth

Key Lessons

  • Traditional mentoring models may need to be modified and updated to best support racialized youth. Mentoring programs should ensure youth are learning culturally and racially appropriate coping skills, which can help in developing a positive ethnic and racial identity.1, 4, 5
  • Mentor matching for racialized youth is a contentious issue – some believe that cross-race matching may result in further marginalization, whereas others believe that shared values and interests are more important than shared racial identities. When matching racialized youth, the following factors should be considered:

    • What preferences does the mentee and mentee’s family have for matching?
    • Does the mentee have same-race role models elsewhere?
    • What is the mentee’s level of cultural mistrust? How can you support them in exploring discrimination and oppression?
    • Does the mentee have a strong ethnic identity?
    • What is the cultural competency of the mentor and the organization?4
  • Programs should be open to engaging mentors from various backgrounds and experiences, including those who may have been through hard times and are interested in taking a strong leadership role with youth. Additional training may be required for these individuals.7

Here is a Body Map of racialized youth prepared by participants (service providers) during a training day by the Ontario Mentoring Coalition.
Racialized Youth Body Map

Existing Tools & Resources

Since they originate from the United States, most resources on mentoring racialized youth refer to African Americans in particular.

Recruiting & retaining African American male mentors:

Ten strategies for recruiting African American male mentors: Publications/MSIY_10 Tips for Recruiting AfricanAmerican Male Mentors.pdf


Effective Mentoring for Racialized Youth


Standards & Good Practices

(linked to positive outcomes for participants)

Other Pertinent Info

(from other studies & reports)

Program Implementation Strategies

Mentoring programs that have components specifically tailored to participants’ culture can facilitate positive ethnic and racial identity formation.4

Using a strengths-based approach is preferable when working with racialized youth.10

Minority youth are less likely to have natural mentors and thus may be in greater need for formal mentoring programs.1

Youth perception of teacher support, school belonging, and decision-making has been found to improve with mentoring. Mentoring was also found to limit involvement with school discipline system.6

Mentor Recruitment, Screening & Selection


10 Strategies for recruiting Black men to be mentors:

  1. Make sure African American men are active in the organization (on staff and Board of Directors)
  2. Be creative about outreach- attend community events
  3. Make the space friendly for Black men, including ensuring African American men are reflected in print and web photos associated with the program
  4. Use emotional branding- tell potential mentors that they can make a difference!
  5. Clarify the expectations around length of commitment and number of regular hours required
  6. Partner with community groups to recruit mentors and involve community leaders where possible
  7. Use one-on-one recruitment where possible
  8. Outreach to diverse groups of men- considering men with criminal records
  9. Engage potential mentors immediately and follow up where necessary
  10. Retain mentors by providing ongoing support and training, supporting groups of mentors in bonding, provide incentives (honoraria where possible), acknowledge their role7, 10, 11

Advocacy is a key skill for mentors and can result in more effective programming.1

Provide cultural competency training for mentors to help mentors in developing empathy for their mentees.2, 4


Ex-prisoners can be excellent mentors because they have “street cred” and may be passionate about working with Black men. Specialized training may be needed if they will be involved with formal mentoring.7

Barriers to Black males becoming mentors:

  1. Desire to be mentored themselves
  2. Belief that mentors need to be financially successful
  3. Time constraints
  4. Lack of motivation or knowledge about mentoring
  5. Not comfortable with African American youth
  6. Previous issues with the law
  7. Lack of trust for government funded programs
  8. Belief that only “professional” men can be mentors
  9. Lack of training and support
  10. Cannot find opportunities nearby
  11. Belief that mentors need to spend money on their mentees
  12. Experiences of oppression, criminalization, and demonization7

Cultural competency is not static and thus mentors can learn and enhance their skills over time.4


Matching Process

When deciding about whether to do a same-race or cross-race match, consider these factors:

  1. Consider preferences for racial similarity in matches, look for similarities elsewhere, consider same-race matches for mentees with few same-race role models
  2. Assess the mentee’s level of cultural mistrust and provide a safe space to discuss discrimination and oppression
  3. Assess mentee ethnic identity and consider matching youth with weaker ethnic identity with mentor with a strong ethnic identity
  4. Examine cultural competence of mentor and organization4

Mentors who share life experiences with their mentees may be seen as more credible and thus developing relationships with their mentees may be easier. For racialized mentees, it is more important that the mentor has cultural competency rather than be of the same race. This can help the mentee develop a strong ethnic identity, which can help combat barriers and systemic oppression due to race.1, 2

Program staff can support cross-race matches by:

  • Helping the mentors understand their own biases;
  • Providing mentors with ongoing training about cultural competency, relationship development skills (authenticity, conflict management, empowerment, etc.), maintaining commitments to their mentee, and allowing the mentee to direct activities and goal-setting;
  • Teaching the mentors to support the mentee in learning about their heritage and celebrate the ethnic identity of their mentee; and
  • Supporting the mentor in learning to provide feedback in a positive way.3, 8, 9


One study by Rhodes (2002) found that of 476 youth mentoring relationships (most of which were from racialized groups) found very few differences between same race and cross race matches.7 Additionally, varying results have been found about whether having practitioners with the same ethnic background impacts outcomes.4

Youth perception of a mentor’s similarity in values and interests are more strongly related to positive mentoring experiences.3, 4

The following arguments provide support for same-race matching:

  • Black mentees who interact with Black mentors who have achieved success in their life can have greater academic achievement.
  • Cross-race matches may not be effective because if the mentor cannot understand the struggles the youth has faced they may not be able to provide the same level of guidance and support as a mentor who has experienced the same racial discrimination.
  • Cross-race matching can perpetuate systemic oppression if the mentor imposes their cultural values on the youth.
  • Racialized people are often more likely to live in impoverished communities, which are more likely to experience violence. If a mentor has experienced violence as well, this can help the young person heal.
  • When seeking natural mentors, youth are more likely to select mentors of similar backgrounds- ethnicity, race and gender. This may be due to perceived similarities.1, 2, 3, 5, 9

Conversely, research has found support for cross-race matching:

  • If same-race mentoring relationships occur, mentees may have difficulty having hope for the future due to systemic racism.
  • Mentors may be more effective when they have overcome challenges and mentees can relate to them- this can provide inspiration and hope for the future.
  • One study found that mentees felt they could talk more openly with their mentors.
  • Cross-race matches may be a necessity, so that a child does not have to be on a waiting list for a mentor of the same race. Timing is more important than the race of the mentor.
  • Parents had more positive impressions of cross-race matches.
  • Some mentees felt that cultural differences helped them become closer with their mentors.
  • Race may affect relationships more when combined with other factors, such as gender, personality, parent attitudes, etc.1, 4, 8, 9

Match Supervision, Support & Retention

Providing mentors and supporters with compensation can help with mentor retention and increase capacity and outcomes.7, 10


Mentoring Black Boys

Programs shown to be effective for working with Black boys focus on improving the future of the youth- e.g., focus on education, employment goals, leadership skills, incorporating African languages/ symbols, etc.1, 10

The role of Black women in mentoring programs for boys should be encouraged and recognized.10

Work with existing advocates to refer youth to mentoring and support the process once they are enrolled.12

Traditional mentoring models may not be most appropriate for Black boys. Black youth could benefit from building culturally and racially appropriate coping skills to help reduce the effects of discrimination.1, 5

Black youth in care may require special attention due to the lack of public role models from their community.1

Mentoring programs for Black youth often require more funding than traditional mentoring programs and due to funding constraints many youth who need support may not receive it.1

Miller (2008) included quotations from key leaders in mentoring for Black youth:

  • “Mentoring is critical if we intend to address much of the pain, abuse, and abandonment that African American males suffer from” (p. 1).
  • “It’s imperative that our young brothers know that we care. If we don’t educate, encourage, motivate, and inspire our youth, who will?” (p. 8).7
  • E-mentoring for Black men can enhance feelings of belonging and increase motivation. It also provides youth access to caring Black role models who they may otherwise not have the opportunity to connect with.12


  1. Jarjoura, G. R. (2013). Effective strategies for mentoring African American boys. American Institutes of Research: Human and Social Development. Retrieved from
  2. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from
  3. Liang, B., & West, J. (2007). Do race and ethnicity really matter? Research in Action: Youth Mentoring, (9). Retrieved from
  4. Sánchez, B., Colón-Torres, Y., Feuer, R., Roundfield, K. E., & Berardi, L. (2005). Race, ethnicity, and culture in mentoring relationships. In D. DuBois, & M. Karcher (Eds.), The SAGE Program on Applied Developmental Science: Handbook of youth mentoring (pp. 191-205). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
  5. Gordon, D. M., Iwamoto, D., Ward, N., Potts, R., & Boyd, E. (2009). Mentoring urban Black middle-school male students: Implications for academic achievement. Journal of Negro Education, 78(3), 277-289.
  6. Holt, J., Bry, B. H., & Johnson, V. L. (2008). Enhancing school engagement in at-risk, urban minority adolescents through a school-based adult mentoring intervention. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 30(4), 297-318.
  7. Miller, D. (2008). Man up: Recruiting & retaining African American male mentors. Urban Leadership Institute. Retrieved from
  8. Rhodes, J. (2002). Mentoring and race. Mentor: National Mentoring Partnership. Retrieved from
  9. Rhodes, J. E., Reddy, R., Grossman, J. B., & Lee, J. M. (2002). Volunteer mentoring relationships with minority youth: An analysis of same- versus cross-race matches. Journal of Applied Psychology, 32(10), 2114-2133.
  10. Watson, J., Washington, G., & Stepteau-Watson, D. (2015). Umoja: A culturally specific approach to mentoring young African American males. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 32, 81-90.
  11. Dove, S., & Mbonisi, M. (2007). Ten strategies for recruiting African American male mentors. The Technical Assistance and Training Program for Mentoring System-Involved Youth. Retrieved from
  12. Urban Youth. (2013). Unlimited: A “lessons learned” guide from what it takes e-mentoring with African American males. Philadelphia, PA: Urban Youth.


Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services