Black People Need Critical Mentoring Everywhere

By Torie Weiston-Serdan

While the Ferguson's, Baltimore's, Cleveland's, New York's, Charleston's and Houston’s continue to capture our attention, let's not forget that the issues plaguing these communities have an impact on the youth living there even after all of the media attention goes away. Educational researchers have long been sharing important information about the demographic makeup of Ferguson schools and schools like them, as well as the trauma associated with such dramatic events for the youth who have had to live at the center of abundant state violence, on several fronts. Furthermore, it is strikingly clear that standard indicators of racial segregation, poverty and negative interactions with the law have been plaguing these communities long before America’s gaze, and the young people growing up in these communities have been exposed to these issues for their entire lives.

The focus, and rightly so, is on righting systemic and institutional wrongs that continue to have an impact today, but our Black youth must be at the front and center of these movements. Addressing the needs of these communities ultimately means addressing the needs of the youth within them. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the lack of academic progress, to the disproportionate suspensions forcing our children into the school-to-prison pipeline, to the lack of resources available to our children, especially in poverty stricken schools and communities, and to the continual and social promotion of youth who aren’t equipped to move on to the next level of education or into a career. These problems mean that the issues the movements of today seek to address continue to be pervasive as many of them start with the young people in our schools and communities.

Mentoring is absolutely essential for youth development, but mentoring as we now know it, must be transformed in ways that can help youth understand and address complex issues of race, class, gender and sexuality. Critical mentoring, or mentoring that utilizes a critical analysis, is built on the notion that mentors are critical actors within communities and that they build relationships with young people in an effort to collaborate and partner with them to challenge status quo, responding openly and honestly about systemic issues, while having the wherewithal to support youth in confronting them.

Critical mentoring means that mentors act as opportunity brokers to help young people access resources and extend their networks in ways that will help them to overcome the often daunting obstacles they face getting through school, into college and into a career, helping them focus on ways to transform their communities rather than abandon them.

Critical mentoring means approaching a mentoring relationship without notions of deficit, that a mentor seeks to enhance or complement what youth already have and that they support them in the ways the youth needs most.

Critical mentoring means recruiting mentors within the community and providing them with the training that they need to have these conversations and to move those conversations into real and tangible efforts as well as results.

We need critical mentors in schools, we need critical mentors in communities, we need critical mentors in churches, we need critical mentors in corporations, we need critical mentors in law offices and courts, and we need them connected to our youth. We need critical mentors everywhere Black people are.

Photo: Shutterstock

Torie Weiston-Serdan, Ph.D. is a veteran educator and founder of The Youth Mentoring Action Network, a youth mentoring organization. She specializes in training mentors to work with Black, Latino and LGBTQ youth populations and can be contacted at

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