Mentoring Misnomers Monday: Black Suburban Youth Don’t Need Mentoring Programs

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It is my intent to help people understand that EVERY young person can benefit from a sound mentoring relationship.

I don’t believe that I can place too much emphasis on this fact. Though most of us understand the general concept of mentoring and believe it is probably good for young people, the message that is often communicated to us is that only certain types of youth really benefit from it. The way mentoring programs are approached and funded, almost always assume that youth who are considered to have the most “critical” needs, require mentoring. As a result, major mentoring initiatives are often based in urban centers where, it would seem, “they can do the most good”. While urban youth face a complex set of challenges that may be helped by mentoring, they are not the only youth who require the help. This misnomer operates on another plane when looking specifically at Black youth. In 2005 Teranishi documented the fact that Blacks are increasingly migrating from urban areas to suburban and rural areas. This demographic shift has exposed a certain lack of structural support for the individuals moving into these areas and requires that we expand our notions about where mentoring programs are most needed.

Suburban and rural schools have limited funds and resources allocated for initiatives like academic mentoring programs, but still grapple with issues like graduation rates, college readiness and attainment, and college completion among Black youth. This shift in demographics must first be followed by a shift in attitude as we look closely at the academic needs of Black suburban youth. Just because they move from an urban center to a suburban one does not mean that they have “made it” and no longer require mentoring. In fact, these youth, because they are assumed to have increased access, often go without the support of major mentoring programs that are typically a great deal easier to find in major cities. Since mentoring, in addition to its other benefits, has a positive impact on a youth’s academic career, it is often a necessary component to a youth’s academic success. In 2012, San Bernardino County, a primarily suburban county in Southern California, showed educational improvement in every area except college readiness. According to a report issued by the Community Foundation, “only 24% of San Bernardino County seniors completed the necessary coursework to be eligible for a UC or CSU campus”, this is lower than the statewide average of 36%. Additionally, only 19% of African Americans met the eligibility requirements for a UC or CSU.

As an educator and mentor working with Black youth in “suburbia”, I have personally experienced the need for mentoring among this population of youth. Many of the youth I work with, need just as much help meeting academic challenges, setting academic goals, and overcoming academic obstacles as any other youth and these youth are hard pressed to find major mentoring organizations who can help provide these services.

If mentoring opportunities result in better academic opportunities, then mentoring programs need to be EVERYWHERE and accessible to EVERY type of youth, not just urban youth.


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