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It was not ideal to have a conference like the 2021 virtual Mentoring Matters Conference; it was necessary. With the sole focus on elevating racial equity and creating spaces of joy for youth, the conference convened youth development and mentoring professionals like us to dive deeper into the unfinished work of racial justice and equity.

In our everyday work managing youth and mentoring programs, we have all had these introductory conversations about race and equity, and how it looks on a systemic level, but this conference and the conversations we were having really prepared us for those next-level questions that will lead to real systemic change. Throughout the conference, the expert presenters gave staggering statistics to highlight the disadvantages experienced by youth, especially Black and Brown youth, while also highlighting the resilience and leadership that these young people continue to show despite these challenges.

Among the many things learned during the conference, these are our five top conference takeaways that shaped how we will continue to approach our work with young people at Connections Mentoring and the GOALS for Girls program with Intrepid Museum.

1. Mentor the whole person

I really enjoyed talking about mentoring the whole young person. As an educator myself, we are used to the learning objectives coming first, but that’s only one aspect of mentoring. It’s also about how youth are doing emotionally and socially, and how educators can mentor for those aspects. We cannot assume anything. We as mentoring professionals have to go into the mentoring relationship and be open and supportive of the whole person. Just because someone is smiling does not mean that everything is great. We have to remember that.

Takeaway by Jennifer Elliott

2. Mentoring is not a one-size-fits-all all

For all youth, we have to acknowledge that trauma is not just a past experience; it is ongoing, and it has shaped them in different ways. Recent research has shown trauma impacts the way that the brain functions in the future. Our work as a mentoring program is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Dr. Laura Quiros made an incredible point that resonated with me, “Being trauma-informed is actively working towards racial equity and justice.” To hear a psychologist say that was very affirming and was a theme that continued throughout the conference. This hit upon the core idea that in order to limit re-traumatization in youth, we need to actively work towards prioritizing mental health, which directly correlates interweaving the importance of racial equity and social justice into all aspects of our programs.

Additionally, we have to consider the historical implications that racial trauma is a major part of the traumatic load. We talk about youth and assume they behave a certain way because of trauma but fail to acknowledge how the roots of trauma impact how children interact in our systems.

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

3. Give youth agency over their expression

The conference encouraged mentors to embrace the different ways that their mentees communicate. We want youth to have more of a say in our process, similar to nothing about them, should happen without them. We know that the majority of programs in social services are not based on determining factors. We also know that our younger generations communicate differently than previous generations. Knowing all of this, We have an obligation to encourage and guide mentors to take a different approach to affirm different types of expressions from different generations. We are empowering our mentors to be even more flexible and challenge themselves to communicate with young people differently, which will ultimately strengthen their relationship.

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

4. Building program structure to ingrain equity

For me, going over how to create and effectively use logic models with Jack Kavanaugh really helped. I will re-introduce it to Intrepid Museum’s youth programs to create a more concrete way to set goals and new milestones for the next school year. I am not a novice to logic models, but it was useful to participate in the breakout rooms and speak with other youth professionals about each other’s programs and share best practices and tips.

The logic models are really helpful in reviewing progress on my program goals and outcomes. Now I can ask, “What story can I tell this year with a logic model about working with youth during COVID?"

Takeaway by Shay Saleem

The conference emphasized it is important to understand what mentoring IS and IS NOT for your program. Set those guidelines and expectations for your program so that when you go and find mentors, you can do more targeted recruiting. Mentor matching should be evaluated case by case because the needs of each young person vary.

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

5. Allow youth to own their stories

The youth panel spoke loud and clear about what they want most from their mentors. “Let us tell our stories.”

To hear this was as important to them as it is to us as educators, authority figures, leaders, and mentors, to get that from a young person was really affirmative in the work that we do.

Takeaway by Jennifer Elliott

The conference reinforced for me to continue providing youth with platforms to share their experiences and all the authenticity it needs to be in whatever frame, language, and way they need to express themselves. To celebrate that and be culturally responsible and responsive as mentors. We have to understand and give space for more youth experiences and the role mentors play in support of youth sharing their experiences and journeys.

Takeaway by Shay Saleem

We have to allow youth to be comfortable with their stories; it should empower them.

Allowing youth to own their own stories will help them embrace themselves and become leaders. Youth should be able to come into themselves without influence, and mentors can be that person to tell them they can do that and support them in the process.

Takeaway by Kyra Holiday

How can you learn more?

The content of the Mentoring Matters Conference was framed around MENTOR New York’s Racial Equity Framework. Review the Framework and contact MENTOR New York to learn more about how your program can review its practices and/or implement elements of the Framework into your work with young people.

If you missed the Mentoring Matters Conference and want to learn more, you can purchase the recordings here.


About the Authors:

Kyra Holiday - Connections Mentoring

Kyra Holiday is the Program Manager of Connections Mentoring in the New York City area. She has been working in Social Services for 6 years; with experience in JJI Foster care, adoption, and mentoring. Kyra is a HUGE Philadelphia Phillies Fan who enjoys reading and binge-watching Netflix when she is not making mentor matches. If you are interested in becoming a mentor in NYC or the Westchester Area please contact me at

Jennifer Elliott - Intrepid Museum

Jennifer Elliott is the Manager of Youth Leadership and Alumni Programs at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. She has a Masters of Museum Professions from Seton Hall University, and degrees in both theater and astronomy from the University of Florida. While working on her astronomy degree she developed an affinity for disguising learning with fun, which ultimately led her to museums. Jennifer has been at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum since 2014, and since that time has developed and led programming for a variety of audiences, including K-12 students and teachers, teens, families, and people with special needs. Additionally she is a math and science tutor in NJ - tutoring middle school and high school math subjects, physics, and SAT/ACT test prep. Jennifer has a passion for making intense math and science more approachable for the masses by connecting them to humanities and the arts.

Shay Saleem - GOALS for Girls

Shihadah “Shay” Saleem is the Senior Manager of Youth Leadership and Alumni Programs and Co-founder of GOALS for Girls program at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Shay graduated with a B.A. from Alfred University, majoring in Environmental Sciences with an emphasis in natural sciences and geology. She is a graduate of University of South Florida, College of Marine Science with a Master of Science in Marine Geomorphology. A two-time recipient of NSF's GK-12 OCEANS program, she worked as a graduate mentor for the outreach program, Oceanography Camp for Girls and a graduate teaching assistant at an elementary and middle school in Pinellas County Florida. In 2008 she returned to New York to work at the Intrepid Museum delivering and developing STEM and history based programs and workshops for K-12 schools, teachers, cultural institutions and communities. Shay's passion is teaching and mentoring young women, introducing them to the myriad possibilities and opportunities in STEM careers.

Intrepid Museum’s 2nd Annual Virtual Youth Summit: Saturday June 12, 2021

On Saturday, June 12, 2021, the Intrepid Museum is ready to break down barriers by providing young people with a variety of ways to learn, share, and empower at the 2nd Annual Virtual Youth Summit! Throughout the day, attendees will be able to participate in diverse workshops, presentations, and panel sessions using the virtual Hopin platform. Extraordinary young people as well as STEAM professionals will be invited to serve as session leaders.

We’re amplifying youth voices in STEAM and civics.

This year we are excited to highlight two of our keynote speakers:

  • Kahlil Greene, Yale’s First Black Student Body President, is a lifelong advocate for equity. Currently, Khalil is a Secretary John Kerry Fellow, a member of the prestigious Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, and a History of Social Change and Social Movements major. He has authored op-eds about education and racial equity in both the LA Times and Washington Post.

  • Gitanjali Rao was honored as Forbes' “30 Under 30 in Science” in 2019 and TIME’s “Top Young Innovator” and "TIME Kid of the Year" for her innovations and STEM workshops. Gitanjali is also author of the book "Young Innovator's Guide to STEM", which guides students, educators, or teachers with a prescribed five-step innovation process.

Visit the Youth Summit webpage to learn how to register and attend the Virtual Youth Summit on Hopin.


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