The concept of mentoring is a popular approach to assisting children in their development. Mentoring is not a new concept. Mentoring has been the ideal solution for youth in the United States for over 100 years – organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters have been around since the early 1900s.
Mentoring has been a concept in many cultures throughout history. However, it has not always been labeled as mentoring; it has simply been the practice of having a more experienced person engage in a positive manner with a less experienced person. Overall, it is a noble and empathic act in today’s society.
When we look at the current state of Black youth today, we often have mixed thoughts and emotions on whom and how they are. We have brilliant young Black people, geniuses with untapped potential, and troubled young people who often get labeled as at-risk. Unfortunately, the truth is that all of our youth are at-risk, because the impact of trauma does not escape any individuals in our community.
Due to the extreme amount of trauma that Black youth interact with on a consistent basis, significant attachment issues develop for many Black youths. I believe the current model of mentoring aims to address attachment issues; however, the model does not acknowledge that this is a major concern.
Attachment issues affect children when they do not establish lasting, healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. These are youth who are victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment or are orphaned (foster care). They have never established enough loving, caring attachment with others.
These conditions can lead to controlling, aggressive or delinquent behaviors, trouble relating to peers, and other problems. These are issues that go much deeper than what the current mentoring model can address.
The dictionary defines mentoring as the process of advising or training someone (especially a younger colleague). The current mentoring model is centered around conversations and spending one-on-one time between an adult and a youth, time spent maybe once or twice a week to engage the youth in an activity and maybe a meal.
However, the current mentoring model does not address the trauma that Black children (especially males) experience. Thus, mentoring continues to be an often suggested and funded solution for Black children, and it is not enough.
Mentoring is a relationship that works best in context. This context must have a few elements present for it to be beneficial. Those elements include both parties (both the mentee and mentor) having aligned visions and goals, being actively engaged in getting to an outcome, and being open to learning from each other. Unfortunately, these elements are not always present in the current mentoring model.
Needed in addition to the mentoring approach is something called change agents. There are two elements that change agents possess: consistent modeling of constructive behaviors and apprenticeship.
Children learn by what they see on a consistent basis. Children pick up patterns in a process called social learning. Therefore, learning from someone who is modeling constructive choices is essential to a child’s development.
In addition, children need to develop “know how” through apprenticeships. Black children need to develop the “know how” on basic life skills, emotional coping skills, and practical labor skills. Placing Black children in environments and situations that allow them to develop the necessary skills to grow and evolve, and not just survive, is key.
Everyone has the ability to be a change agent in the lives of Black children, whether you know these children personally or not. Mentoring does have a place in the healing journey of Black children. However, it alone is not the solution.
Mentoring is merely a piece to the puzzle. The additional elements described above are also essential to support and assist in the evolution of Black children.
Therefore, while mentoring is a small step in the right direction, it alone does not work for Black children. This is due to the significant amount of toxic stress and trauma that Black children interface with on a daily basis.
Therefore, we must be honest and open to understanding that mentoring is not the solution to healing the issues afflicting Black youth. We have to be more strategic and intentional in our efforts to help Black children advance.