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Mentoring For Black Male Youth

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Group Review Board
Bernadette Sanchez, PhD
(DePaul University)
National Mentoring Resource Center

This review examines research on mentoring for Blacki boys and is organized around four topics: a) its documented effectiveness; b) the extent to which mentor, youth, and program characteristics influence effectiveness; c) the processes that link mentoring to outcomes in Black male youth; and d) the extent to which efforts to provide mentoring for Black male youth have reached and engaged these youth, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by host organizations and settings. There is some preliminary evidence that:

  • Both formal and informal mentoring have the potential to benefit Black boys in a range of areas, including academics (e.g., grades), social-emotional well-being (e.g., relationships with others), mental health (e.g., alcohol use), and preventing risky behaviors (e.g., sexual activity).
  • Cultural mistrust may influence Black boys’ perceptions of their White mentors and thus the quality of their relationships with them.
  • Mentoring may be able to lessen the negative effects of racial discrimination on Black boys.
  • ——Group mentoring approaches seem to support Black male youth’s social-emotional development through group processes (e.g., unity, brotherhood, trust).
  • Mentoring that promotes Black boys’ racial identity may in turn lead to positive effects in other aspects of their lives (e.g., academic outcomes). This process may be facilitated by connecting Black male youth with mentors who have shared life experiences; engaging Black men as mentors has the potential to be useful in this regard, although it should be noted that research to inform the possible merits of this strategy is largely lacking.
  • Research suggests that Black men are more likely to serve as informal rather than formal mentors and that they experience barriers to serving as mentors in formal mentoring programs.
  • Developing close and supportive mentoring relationships may be a mechanism by which mentoring promotes positive outcomes in Black boys.
    Black boys may have less access to informal mentors compared to Black girls.

Implications for practice that draw on the findings and conclusions of the review are provided. These include recommendations to:

  • Recognize that Black boys are likely to vary in their individual needs and, thus, in the specific types of mentoring supports that might be most effective.
  • Take care to ensure that mentors of Black boys receive appropriate training about issues of race, culture, and gender.
  • Recruit mentors with appropriate skills (e.g., teaching or advocacy experience) and cultural competency to mentor Black boys effectively.
  • Consider activities and strategies that help Black boys to identify, and increase support from, the existing mentoring and resources they have in their lives.
  • Consider how efforts to provide mentoring for Black boys can be linked to the fight for larger social justice goals for these youth and their communities.

iWe use the term “Black” as the general racial category in the review, but then use the term “African-American” when it is used as the racial category in specific studies below.

Introduction

As evidenced by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative1, our society has recognized the need to provide more mentoring to boys of color. Specifically, mentoring is one of four key interventions of the MBK Alliance1 in order to address the needs and opportunity gaps (e.g., in education) of boys of color.

Mentoring has long been a focus within the African-American community as illustrated through the implementation of various forms of culturally focused interventions for their young people (e.g., Rites of Passage programs led by adult leaders,2 and as such, the MBK Alliance is a natural fit with existing efforts across the nation.

  1. What are the demonstrated effects of mentoring for Black male youth?
  2. What factors condition or influence the effectiveness of mentoring for Black male youth?
  3. What intervening processes are most important in linking mentoring to Black male youth outcomes?
  4. What intervening pathways or variables are likely to be most important in linking mentoring to outcomes for YCSA?
  5. To what extent have efforts to provide mentoring to Black male youth reached and engaged these youth, been implemented with high quality, and been adopted and sustained by host organizations and settings?

This review includes studies about formal and informal mentoring relationships and activities that take place between Black boys (i.e., mentees) and older, more experienced persons (i.e., mentors) who operate in a nonprofessional capacity to provide support for the youth’s healthy development (see What is Mentoring? for more details). A systematic literature search was conducted to find articles, book chapters, and evaluation reports that include findings that address any of the above questions. To be included in this review, research needed to meet the following criteria: a) at least 80% of the youth in the study sample were Black or African-American or, when this was not the case, relevant analyses were conducted on Black male youth specifically; and b) youth were, on average, under the age of 18 years. In total, 18 studies of mentoring of Black male youth fit the preceding criteria and are included in this review. Eleven are evaluations of formal, volunteer-based mentoring programs whereas seven are studies of informal mentoring relationships. All but one were conducted in the United States. Fifteen studies appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals and three were dissertations.

 

Implications for Practice
(Mike Garringer, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership)

The review of the evidence around mentoring young Black males above is helpful in highlighting just how difficult it can be to determine the effectiveness of mentoring (and factors that influence that effectiveness) for specific groups of youth in real-world applications. In spite of the fact that many mentoring programs are geared specifically toward youth of color, or boys of color in particular, the youth mentoring field to date has generated very little concrete evidence that mentoring can be broadly impactful for Black male youth and even less information about the specific strategies or factors that can ensure that their mentoring relationships are beneficial, both in terms of individual success and in addressing long-standing social barriers and injustices.

There are several reasons for this dearth of strong evidence, but two stick out as being especially challenging:

  • Most program evaluations either don’t examine differential effects for certain groups of youth participants or, even if they wanted to, lack the large number of mentees needed to generate meaningful statistical power in examining outcomes for subsets of youth.
  • Within a category like Black male youth, there is still tremendous diversity that makes it hard to talk in absolutes about what “works”: urban vs rural, high poverty vs middle class, American-born vs immigrant, high individual risk vs low individual risk, and so on. As with many other groups of youth, it can be very challenging to talk about effective practices without also painting them with a broad (and often stereotypical) brush.

Yet, in spite of these challenges, meaningful public policy efforts like My Brother’s Keeper and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement have put considerable energy into promoting mentoring as a cornerstone tool and intervention in the fight for equality and better outcomes for the nation’s young Black men. We have every reason to believe, on paper, that mentoring is an invaluable resource for these young people in particular. It makes both theoretical and conceptual sense, especially in light of more general research on mentoring’s effectiveness for youth with higher levels of risk and limited social capital. But the fact that Dr. Sánchez had only 19 studies to draw from in this review—and that those studies often had little in common in terms of the questions or programming they examined—illustrates just how challenging it is to determine “what works” for mentoring this group of youth. Our conceptualization of the value often far outpaces the actual science.
But that doesn’t mean that practitioners are totally in the dark about how to design effective services for Black male youth. Given the lack of definitive answers in the research base, what should mentoring practitioners keep in mind as they think about serving Black male youth more effectively?

 

  1. DON’T ASSUME THAT ALL BLACK MALE YOUTH WILL NEED THE SAME MENTORING 

  2. PROPER TRAINING OF MENTORS IN ASPECTS OF RACE AND CULTURE MAY BE CRITICAL 

  3. RECRUIT MENTORS WHO HAVE THE RIGHT SKILLS AND VALUES TO MENTOR BLACK MALE YOUTH EFFECTIVELY

  4. CONSIDER ACTIVITIES AND STRATEGIES THAT GET YOUNG BLACK MALES TO RECOGNIZE THE MENTORING THEY DO HAVE IN THEIR LIVES AND TO FIND ADDITIONAL MENTORS

  5. MAKE SURE THAT PARENTS AND GUARDIANS ARE TREATED AS PARTNERS, NOT OBSTACLES IN THE MENTORING RELATIONSHIP

  6. FIGHT FOR LARGER SOCIAL JUSTICE GOALS IN YOUR COMMUNITY

 


Learn More:
The full study, “Mentoring For Black Male Youth” is available on the National Mentoring Resource Center website. Read Now
This review examines the research evidence for mentoring programs that use a group format, in which one or more mentors is matched with a group of youth for a shared mentoring experience.

About the Review:
Each Mentoring Model/Population Review is conducted by the National Mentoring Resource Center Research Board with the intention of examining the full body of rigorous evidence as it pertains to either mentoring for a specific population of youth (e.g., youth with disabilities, immigrant youth) or a specific model of mentoring (e.g., group mentoring, e-mentoring). Each review is built around a thorough literature review for the topic in an attempt to answer key questions about mentoring’s effectiveness, participant characteristics and program processes that influence that effectiveness, and successful implementation of relevant programs to date.

Each Review also contains an “Implication for Practitioners” section that highlights steps programs can take to use or build on this evidence base. A draft version of each review and accompanying implications for practice is anonymously reviewed by at least one practitioner and one researcher who have expertise in the topic. A Research Board member serves as the coordinating editor for each review and makes final decisions regarding the acceptability of its content, prior to submission for final review and approval by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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