Our communities are engaged in a battle to dismantle racism and systemic oppression, and our young people are on the front lines fighting for their lives to matter. We must take action to end racism and racist power. MENTOR Virginia stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial justice.

Our team has been reflecting on MENTOR Virginia’s role in changing racist systems. Our work must progress if we want to move toward a world where young people have access to opportunities and life paths that are not bound or limited by skin color. Right now, we don’t live in that world. Our young people deserve better.

This movement has taught us that there’s more MENTOR Virginia can do to be part of the collective solution as we all work to build a more equitable world together. This movement has also confirmed that relationships are at the heart of the work our nation must do to change racist systems, as change can only happen when we see each other, when we listen to each other, and when we take action together.

Through conversations with our board members, trainers and consultants, program partners, staff, and other MENTOR affiliates across the country, MENTOR Virginia has identified avenues for our future. What follows is a list of the actions and initiatives our team and board of directors are making to more fully disrupt racist systems operating in our own work. These shifts will be integrated into the heart of what we do, changing how we talk about, approach, and fulfill our mission. We intend this process to be ongoing with the hope that one day we will live in a world that makes and keeps the promise of equity and opportunity to all our young people.

Across the country, young people are raising their voices against racism and putting their bodies in harm’s way to demand justice. As they work to make sense of the violence and injustice they see daily, we must create space for and take seriously the voices of young people. They know what they need in order to thrive, and they have ideas about how to change the world so that they can thrive. For our work to be effective and successful, we must encourage young people to continue advocating for themselves, elevate their voices and experiences, and empower them to be the leaders our world needs right now.

Immediate Actions:

1. We are updating our mission statement to more fully reflect an assets-based approach to mentoring work, recognizing that we don’t need to fundamentally “transform lives” or “strengthen our communities” because our communities are already strong.

2. We are examining the language and mindsets we use to describe and approach our work, shifting away from deficit-based approaches including saviorism to more fully embrace the assets and strengths of our young people and communities.

3. We are hosting and participating in local, statewide, and national conversations with program partners, funders, other youth development agencies, and fellow affiliates in the MENTOR network to make space for difficult conversations on racial equity and how the mentoring field can better show up for our young people.

4. We are hosting monthly conversations with our staff and extended team of trainers and consultants to ensure space for open dialogue on racial equity and inclusive decision making.

5. We are creating space for open racial dialogue among our staff, team of consultants, and AmeriCorps VISTA Members through a book club beginning with Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How To Be An Antiracist, with specific focus on how we can more fully engage in antiracism through our work.

6. We are engaging in staff training from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities on unconscious bias and disrupting cycles of prejudice in our work.

7. We are collaborating with MENTOR Virginia’s board of directors in launching a task force to guide and hold the organization accountable in the integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion into all aspects of the organization’s work.

8. We are updating the content of our New Mentor Training to include information on cultural sensitivity including having an assets-based approach to the mentoring relationship, sharing power with young people, and strategies for building resilience.

Long-Term Actions:

9. We will dedicate a full-time AmeriCorps VISTA Member within MENTOR Virginia’s office to develop, recruit, and facilitate a youth advisory council that leverages youth voice, advocacy, and decision making in the mentoring field across the state of Virginia.

10. We will advocate for and promote youth voice and empowerment in our communications with partners, community members, and stakeholders.

11. We will explore avenues and opportunities to engage in existing local and statewide advocacy work surrounding issues of youth equity, youth mentoring, and equal access to opportunity—led by the youth on MENTOR Virginia’s forthcoming youth advisory council.

12. We will dedicate more time and resources to expanding everyday (informal) mentoring, youth-initiated mentoring, and reverse mentoring in Virginia’s communities through training opportunities and the work of MENTOR Virginia’s forthcoming youth advisory council.

13. We will identify areas and opportunities to provide trainings for mentors, youth development professionals, and mentoring program staff on cultural responsiveness topics such as white allyship, strengths-based approaches to mentoring, leveraging youth voice, and how to have conversations about race and equity with young people.

14. We will collaborate with mentoring programs and other partners in the field to build the recruitment pipeline for Black and Brown mentors while addressing the barriers and systemic issues that reduce the inclusivity of the mentoring field.

15. We will work in conjunction with MENTOR National to integrate program self-assessment questions about racial equity and inclusion in the National Quality Mentoring System.

16. We will have intentional conversations with mentoring programs about strategies for amplifying youth voice and building program spaces that are welcoming and empowering for youth and mentors of color.

17. We will include questions about racial equity and inclusivity practices in statewide and localized data collection campaigns to inform resource development and opportunities for Virginia’s mentoring field.

18. We will support our board’s dedication over time to cultivating a board of directors that more fully represents the diverse voices of communities across Virginia.

19. We will integrate racial equity work and the action items on this list into the strategic planning process so it informs all our efforts going forward, fundamentally changing how we engage in our work.

20. We will examine our hiring practices for staff as we commit to a higher level of inclusivity.

21. We will integrate areas of growth surrounding racial equity and inclusion into staff development plans.

This list of actions and initiatives is just the beginning and acknowledges the limited capacity we have as a small nonprofit organization. If there is a core action missing from this list that you would like to see us incorporate into our work going forward, please contact Jennifer Boyle at jennifer@mentorva.org to start a conversation.