JAY Z’s 4:44 is a Mentoring Album and Here is Why

Yeah, I said it, 4:44 is a mentoring album and here is why… It does not take very long into the album before listeners realize that there is a maturity in JAY Z’s tone. His raw talent and ability to spit lyrics from his head (I did it all without a pen, I had to remind ya’ll again) are all too familiar to fans, but his subject matter, “pregnant pauses” and vulnerability, signal a certain development and wisdom. In fact, JAY Z sounds like Black elders all over America who have endured decades of racialized experiences and now opt to bare their battle scars for the youth who have not yet had time to have the same experience or make the same mistakes. And, this is where 4:44 becomes a mentoring album. JAY Z exhibits moments of salience that at times sound like the old man sitting on the porch or standing on the street corner who insists you’re missing the point because your youth and inexperience blind you. “Listen here youngster, let me put you up on game… ” And, like many of our elders, he does this out of love. He’s listened, he’s watched, and he’s reflected and now seems ready to move into his next phase of life and share what he has learned.

“You know you owe the truth to all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z”: The first track on the album, Kill Jay Z, has been described as JAY Z talking to and checking his ego. But this also sounds very much like a conversation between him and his younger and more reckless self. His intention to come clean about the destructive ways in which he has behaved and promoted that behavior in his music is a sort of reckoning and he is more than honest about how this has hurt him and his family. This track sounds like so many of the conversations happening in the My Brother’s Keeper mentoring space, where adult men are wrestling with their former and present selves in the presence of young men and boys in an attempt to pass on some wisdom about masculinity, fatherhood, love, and marriage. In fact, this intergenerational dialogue and reflection are not only necessary but a critical component of mentoring.

“Ya’ll think it’s bougie I’m like it’s fine, but I’m tryna give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99”: In The Story of OJ, already a favorite track with a gripping visual, JAY Z talks respectability and racial politics, generational wealth and much more. The track’s music is already symbolic of the intergenerational dialogue happening in mentoring spaces because it is a musical conversation between Jazz and Hip-Hop. JAY Z samples Nina Simone’s Four Women and spits verses on top of jazz piano licks. Aside from the musical symbolism, his subject matter is all too familiar in mentoring spaces where folks of color are engaging. Advice about how to spend and save money, how to recycle dollars within the community and how to navigate spaces while Black.

There is more, but you are going to have to listen to the album to hear HOV drop gems.

Here is what mentoring programs need to understand:

Communities have mentors already in them

4:44 and the messages within should remind mentoring programs that communities already have mentors and that these mentors have access to cultural knowledge and experiences that can’t be “recruited” from outside. Programs must do more to work inside and alongside these communities so that the youth we serve have access to the voices and wisdom that these community elders provide.

There is value in the diverse recruitment of mentors

How many of your mentors are having the kinds of conversations with their proteges that JAY Z is having on the 4:44 album? We need to be giving the young people we serve the opportunity to engage with mentors who can dispense this type of wisdom. The time for simple conversations about school performance is done with; we need mentors who can have complex and nuanced discussions about socio-political issues. Some of these gems can only be exchanged because of shared experiences. Don’t let your limited recruitment models keep a young person from accessing these powerful lessons. The more diverse and intentional we are about recruiting and training our mentors, the more likely it is that these conversations will take place.

Respectability is not a predictor of effective mentoring

This album is a reminder that the respectability of a mentor does not necessarily predict effectiveness. While mentoring programs have necessary safety checks in place to ensure the safety of our youth, we are also very much attached to the idea that a mentor must be an “upstanding” community member. And, our definition of “upstanding” is often based on white and middle-class ideas. We don’t often recognize Hip-Hop artists as respectable enough to be mentors and if they aren’t respectable enough then this almost always precludes the Brothers and Sisters from the neighborhood. We need to check this line of thinking and renegotiate our ideas about who can be an effective mentor.

Make space for Hip-Hop in mentoring

We need to establish spaces for matches to listen to and dialogue about pieces like 4:44. Some matches may be doing this naturally, but programs who have overlooked Hip-Hop as a living and thriving intergenerational dialogue have missed youth culture entirely. Our young people have listened to this album, and they are listening with or without the guidance of a mentor. Imagine what mentoring moments can happen when mentor and protege listen to 4:44 together and can discuss the complexities of the content. We need more of these exchanges in our mentoring programs, and Hip-Hop can help to facilitate them.

Finally, 4:44 should be a call to action for all of us. As Dr. Bettina Love says, “we can’t wait until we are 47 to start mentoring, our young people need us now”.

Torie Weiston-Serdan is author of Critical Mentoring: A Practical Guide and CEO of the Youth Mentoring Action Network


A Call for Researchers and Practitioners: Mentoring Utilizing Critical and Culturally Relevant Perspectives

“Despite evidence that race and ethnicity plays an important role in mentoring relationships, there are limited research-based guidelines in the practice field regarding how race/ethnicity should be considered. Some of the most important resources in the field, such as Elements of Effective Practice (MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2009a), pay little attention to the role of race and ethnicity in mentoring programs (Sanchez, Colon-Torres, Feuer, Roundfield, Berardi, 2014).

This statement is the mentoring field’s call to action. While the newest edition of the Effective Elements does begin to address race and ethnicity, these nuanced issues are outside of its purview. Also, there is still a regrettable lack of information in this area, and much of it stems from a lack of critical and culturally relevant perspective, at least in documented ways, within the field. The Youth Mentoring Action Network seeks to establish a collaborative partnership and institute that will bring together mentoring researchers and practitioners to collaborate on projects, papers, training curriculum and other tools that can help make critical and culturally relevant mentoring a national and global reality. The development of this group will begin this year (2016) and will work to organize researchers, provide connections, and ultimately provide opportunities and resources for the support and promotion of this work.

We are currently seeking interest from mentoring researchers and practitioners who study and write about mentoring. After compiling a list of interested researchers, we intend to convene 1-2 meetings this year to establish a set of goals and objectives for our work. To guide our work, we have created the following guidelines for mentoring practice and research that is deemed critical and culturally relevant.

For Mentoring Practice:

-Mentoring that fully considers race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality when building the infrastructure for programs. Including programmatic structure, recruiting of mentors, training of mentors, support of mentoring relationships, mentoring activities and finally, target outcomes.

-Mentoring that is focused on critical consciousness and transformation rather than assimilation and adaptation

-Mentoring that places emphasis on the whole community, the whole protégé, rather than just parts of the whole

-Mentoring that includes, from its very inception, the needs of the community and the needs of the youth in the community (not about us without us)

-Mentoring that promotes and supports mentor/protégé partnerships for community transformation
For Mentoring Research:

-Mentoring research that utilizes critical frameworks; i.e. critical race theory, critical pedagogy, etc. for the analysis of mentoring relationships, mentoring outcomes, programmatic structures, and outcomes, etc.-Mentoring evaluation that moves beyond standard evaluative strategy and utilizes evaluative strategy that empowers the protégés and highlights programmatic outcomes beyond statistical ones. For example, empowerment evaluation, photovoice, etc.

-The full recognition of naturally occurring mentoring relationships as well as structures to “harness” and study them

-Challenging the mentoring meta-narrative with new and critical forms of research

E-mail tweiston@gmail.com with questions or other inquiries.

Submit Interest Here

Intersectionality and Mentoring LGBTQ Youth of Color: What I Learned

Coming of age in a society that often has limited options for young people is already quite complex, but coming of age in that same society as a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender or Queer (LGBTQ) youth of color can be even more so. Mentors for these youth must work to respond to the challenges they face. The concept of intersectionality, a concept coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, can be useful for mentors working with this population. In my process as a mentor, I had to look closely at how age, sexuality, and race intersected to create a myriad of challenges in the coming of age processes of my proteges. Informed by work with four Black and Latino LGBTQ youth, this is an examination of some of the issues facing LGBTQ youth of color and what I learned as I mentored them.

On Being Young
That my proteges were in high school when our mentoring relationships formed meant that they were at a critical juncture in their development and battling issues that come with being young. As adults, we often minimize the complexity of teenage thought. We want to question their judgment and ability to make sound decisions, and while I am not saying that young people are perfect, I am saying that their capacity to process and understand the complexity of the world is often very acute. However, this attitude, that they know very little and that they need to grow up, prohibits many adults from understanding that teens do, in fact, have very real understandings of identity. Teens experience a lack of freedom to express identity openly and to use voice as their perceived “place” in the world is often a subordinate one.

On Being LGBTQ
As a result of being “too” young, my proteges were often unable to identify, name and own their sexuality. In addition to that, they also had to navigate a world in which homoantagonism is pervasive, being very careful with the ways in which they expressed who they were. They had to consider the consequences of being openly gay, or being identified by others as gay, and to worry about what that could mean regarding their emotional and physical safety. They existed in a world where heterosexuality was “normal” and homosexuality abnormal, experimental or “a phase”, and that increased their fear and trepidation. And these fears were founded too since we know well the statistics surrounding homelessness, suicide, and violence among and against LGBTQ youth and adults. All of my proteges shared that one of their primary concerns about being open about their identities in high school was that they were first-hand witnesses of blatant homoantagonism in their schools, many of these acts unaddressed and sometimes supported by adults.

On Being Raced 
In my conversations with proteges about their decisions to “cover”, many of them expressed disdain for the concept of gayness to start. In fact, they identified “gayness as whiteness.” In each descriptor of their journey, they made statements about not wanting to be a cliche or a stereotype, and when asked to unpack that concept, they essentially described the effeminate white male so often portrayed in the media. As one of my proteges shared: “I was just trying to make everyone else see that I was this strong Black man, I was just trying to be a role model, an example for the Black community at school and if I was labeled gay then that would have taken so much from it”. This young man did not understand that he could be a strong Black man and gay at the very same time.

As a mentor whose purpose it was to provide guidance, I had more questions than answers about how to help each of my proteges navigate all of this. How would I remain sensitive to their need to cover though I knew they were struggling to name and own their identities? How would I respect the nature of our relationship and also recognize the expectations of their parents? How would I reassure them of their normality and help them connect with a history of LGBTQ voices of color? Experiences I had with these young people prompted me to begin reflecting on what the mentoring field needed to start explicitly focusing on issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, essentially making mentoring more critical. Critical mentoring was needed to help mentors understand the challenges these issues bring to the mentoring relationship, to help them understand how to navigate these issues,  and to help them make mentoring a more transformative process.

Here’s What I Learned
I learned to be a model for LGBTQ youth of color. My proteges had taught me that my comfort with my identity provided a safe space for them. Too often folks who are traumatized carry that trauma into mentoring relationships with young people and the results are disastrous. My ability to live my life openly, honestly and unapologetically empowered these youth in ways I did not understand at the time. The fact that my proteges identified gayness as whiteness made this issue doubly important. They had seen very few examples of LGBTQ folks of color and needed to. I not only modeled that reality but was a link to others in the community, providing these youth with important community resources; i.e. social capital.

I learned to speak up about the whitening of the LGBTQ world and help my proteges see beyond media representations. I had to help them challenge existing metanarratives. They could not know unless they were explicitly taught, that they were descendants of Angela Davis, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Richard Rodriguez, James Baldwin and Alice Walker. They could not know that a struggle was already occurring, that their community had already begun to challenge the notion of their invisibility.

Most importantly, I learned to educate others. I started having conversations with other mentors, with mentoring organizations, with folks in the community. I started asking how we could be better for our LGBTQ youth of color, and I started providing workshops, seminars, and training sessions meant to help us all increase our knowledge and awareness of their unique perspectives. And I didn’t do this alone, believing firmly in the idea that mentoring is a collaborative endeavor, I partnered with one of my young proteges to do this work.

Too many of us have experienced the angst of being young, raced and LGBTQ to leave our youth to it all alone. We must volunteer to serve as mentors, make ourselves visible to existing mentoring programs. We must also build programs in our communities and teach the next generation about a strong and thriving lineage of LGBTQ people of color. We must help others to understand the importance of reaching out to these youth, providing them with a network of support. Finally, we must, like we do everywhere else, demand the humanity that we and the youth that we mentor deserve.

Creating a Culturally Relevant Mentoring Program for Girls of Color


Not too long ago, my colleagues and I created a mentoring program, called GirlPOWER!, for African American and Latina early adolescent girls. Our goal was to ensure that the program was gender specific as well as culturally and developmentally appropriate. We created the program in collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters Metropolitan Chicago, and our team was a racially/ethnically diverse group of mostly women. More information is provided about the process and the program in other sources (DuBois et al., 2008; Pryce et al., 2010). Below I outline some of the strategies we employed but added additional ones that you might find useful for your mentoring program for girls of color.

1. Gather stakeholders’ views about the needs of girls of color. We interviewed parents, mentors, mentees and staff members about the issues that they thought were important to address when serving African American and Latina girls. They also provided feedback on ideas we had about issues we thought were important. Gathering the views and opinions of stakeholders can be done in various ways; you can hold focus groups or interview people one-on-one. Or you can have workshops in which individuals have small group discussions and then share out to the larger group about the specific needs of girls of color. We conducted one-on-one interviews with the various stakeholders, which worked well for us because we were able to do the interviews at a location and date/time that was convenient for the participants.

2. Review the research literature about the specific racial and cultural processes that play a role in the healthy development of girls of color. Solid programs begin with research; it’s always a good idea to begin there. For instance, we found that a healthy ethnic/racial identity was important in promoting other positive outcomes (e.g., academic achievement) for youth of color. We also found that the role of racial discrimination took a negative toll on the development of girls of color. Thus, in our program we addressed how to promote a positive racial/ethnic identity as well as how to cope with discrimination in a healthy manner.

3. Do your program leadership, staff and mentors include members of the cultural group you plan to serve? A very important question to ask. If not, the organization leadership needs to reflect on why that is and get out to recruit leaders, staff, and mentors who are from the target group. Having a diverse set of adults in the organization will help girls of color feel like they belong and provide role models, but will also hold the organization and program accountable to better serve girls of color in a culturally appropriate way.

4. Arrange for consultants from the community (e.g., tribal elders) to help enhance the cultural relevance of your program. Whether these consultants serve on an advisory board that meets periodically to review and reflect on the program as girls’ needs evolve or participates in community centered evaluations of program outcomes, it is essential that these community experts be included in an ongoing way.

5. Provide training to staff and mentors to enhance their cultural humility and to reflect on social justice and inequality in our society. Train mentors and staff on the following: a) to reflect on their own privilege, assumptions, and biases about girls of color, b) the specific needs and issues faced by girls of color, c) oppression and social justice issues experienced by girls of color, and d) how to apply this knowledge to mentoring girls of color.

Bernadette Sánchez is an Associate Professor of Psychology at DePaul University. 


Pryce, J., Silverthorn, N., Sánchez, B., & DuBois, D.L. (2010). GirlPOWER!: Strengthening mentoring relationships through a structured, gender-specific program. New Directions for Youth Development, 126, 89-105.
DuBois, D. L., Silverthorn, N., Pryce, J., Reeves, E., Sanchez, B., Silva, A., Ansu, A. A., Haqq, S., & Takehara, J. (2008). Mentorship: The GirlPOWER! program. In C. W. Leroy & J. E. Mann (Eds.), Handbook of preventive and intervention programs for adolescent girls. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Why We Need Critical Mentoring in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore and Everywhere Black People Are

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.

Read the full article here…

Young Lives Matter

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled …”      Jonathan Swift

Rhetoric around both the literal and abstract concept of “lives” has inundated most Americans via mass media in the last year. Since the Black Lives Matter Movement and Black Spring have erupted, discussions about which lives matter, matter most, or matter most immediately have become central to daily conversations. Teachers, professors, news anchors, activists, writers, etc. have weighed in on which “lives” we should all consider most valuable and when. Polemics declaring “Black Lives Matter” fill our social media feeds, retorts declaring “All Lives Matter” quickly follow, satirical pieces proclaiming “All Lion Lives Matter” have also made their way onto our screens and finally, the new decree that “Police Lives Matter” has emerged in response to recent police officer killings highlighted in the media.

But, in all of these “lives matter” discussions, very little has been said about youth; Black youth, Latino youth, Native youth, etc., youth who struggle daily to navigate schools, communities, institutions, places in which many may have little to no agency or advocacy. Maybe I haven’t been watching closely enough, maybe i’ve missed it, but I have yet to hear someone declare or proclaim that “Young Lives Matter”. Some might argue that the movement ultimately benefits our youth as they have a stake in the future it will create, others might argue that youth are at the center of these movements, that this is, in fact, a youth movement and in that way, they are being addressed. If either of these points are correct, then why has no one clearly declared that “Young Lives Matter”? Why have I not heard it proclaimed that education be examined? Why have the movements who claim to be working on behalf of our future, done very little to critique or even access schools, where most of our youth can be found? The education system is the root of many of the issues we see played out in our society. Education reform rhetoric consistently uses youth of color as it’s poster children, promising to level the playing field. Yet, outcomes consistently tell us that charter schools, temporary teachers (TFA), Common Core, and increased standardized testing have done little to ensure that minoritized youth have the support and access they deserve. America eats it’s babies. We see the evidence in unaddressed and systemic poverty, urban gentrification, health and medical disparities and most importantly, in education.

Most recently, Dr. Shaun Harper’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at Penn GSE released a report on the overwhelming number of suspensions among Black youth in southern schools. We know these suspensions result in lack of educational access, that they feed the school-to-prison  pipeline and that they often mirror much of what we see playing out in many of these viral videos illustrating interactions with police.

As a mentor and educator, working daily to facilitate educational progress, access and success among youth, I posit that Young Lives Matter, not just in the past, not just presently, but always. And they matter in ineffable ways that many of us can’t see, either because we don’t have children or we don’t work with them, or we choose to ignore them. Young Lives Matter and require a critical education and positive upbringing with parents who love and provide for them, mentors who support and care about them, teachers dedicated to empowering and teaching them, schools and communities who foster opportunities for them, politicians who create policies that assist them, and so on. Until we declare that youth truly matter and begin in action, not just in rhetoric, to address their needs, our movements will bear very little fruit.