TODAY IN MENTORING (TIM) TALK: Building Systems & Organizations to Support Racial Equity

Dr. Rolanda Ward has 25 plus years of experience in the non-profit sector working for community-based organizations and higher-education institutions of learning, as well as with school districts, philanthropic organizations, and research centers. Rolanda has been teaching and training professionals and students about race and social justice issues for over 15 years. Rolanda is a critical thinker who has a very unique perspective about racial justice as she helps to move individuals beyond feelings of individual shame, anger, and guilt to concrete action steps that promote organizational success, system changes, and mission obtainment. Her style is collaborative, not confrontational, which produces an atmosphere of dialogue and deliberation about an organization’s unique core issues, values, and solutions for change. As Rolanda guides organizations through a racial change process, she creates opportunities for each organization to enhance its own leadership development. Rolanda truly believes that every project should have sustainable results!


Rolanda is an associate professor of social work and the endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality, and Mission. She is co-chair of the University’s Diversity Committee, as well as the Identifying and Dismantling Racial Injustice Task Force. Rolanda is the interim facilitator of the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force which was formed to address the alarming health disparities found in recent COVID-19 data, as well as a commissioner for Niagara Falls Social Justice Commission.


Rolanda has designed and implemented school-based, racial equity research interventions: Race Education Advocacy College-Credit-Courses in high school (REAC3H) and the Niagara University Public School Collaborative (NUPSC). REAC3H allows high school juniors and seniors to earn college credits through college courses that amplify the social, economic, political issues, and strengths found in Black and Brown communities. NUPSC specifically targets students in schools labeled as “low performing schools” in order to demonstrate the leadership capacity of students who are most often not recognized in our communities. Students engage in school reform activities at the building level and as a result show positive advancement in attendance, grades, and graduation outcomes. Both district-based interventions use youth development, critical race theory, and mentoring frameworks.


Rolanda earned her Doctorate in social work and sociology, her Masters in Social Work, and her Masters in Divinity from Boston University. She is a macro trained social worker and researcher with superior project development, project management, project evaluation, organizing, and policy analysis, and advocacy skills. She has been the lead investigator or research associate on numerous studies focusing on society's most vulnerable, underserved, and proven-risk populations. These populations include foster care youth, students, recent parolees, child welfare workers, and intellectual and developmental disabilities families and self-advocates. She has organized regional and national conferences and symposiums, in-person and online; presented at local, regional, and national conferences; published scholarly and technical reports; and been a featured guest on news programs, radio shows, and webinars.


Rolanda is a field educator for undergraduate and graduate social work students and has been recognized as an outstanding field educator multiple times.


Rolanda enjoys a good, long walk as her most effective self-care strategy.

Brenda Jimenez is CEO of MENTOR New York. As a professional in the non-profit sector, Brenda's expertise in executive leadership, fund development, board development, and organizational management has supported non-profit Executives and Board of Directors to transform their organizations by increasing their reach and impact for the past 15 years.


Brenda Jiménez is CEO of MENTOR New York, a local affiliate of MENTOR National. She was appointed to the position in December 2019 and has been leading the organization through this time of a global pandemic and racial unrest. She has successfully pivoted and expanded services to be responsive to its longtime partners while reaching new partners and expanding their service portfolio by 55% over 28 weeks and a 3% revenue growth. Under her leadership, she has increased partner engagement and developed resources, tools, and services that have allowed mentoring programs throughout New York to serve the more than 80,000 young people who have mentors during these challenging and unprecedented times. Recently, both Brenda and MENTOR New York were awarded several 2020 Stevie Awards for Women in Business. MENTOR New York received the Silver Stevie Award for Organization of the Year – Government or Non-Profit– 10 or Less Employees. Brenda also received four awards in the silver and bronze in the following categories:

  • Silver Stevie Award for Female Innovator of the Year – Government or Non-Profit –10 or Less Employees

  • Silver Stevie Award for Woman of the Year - Government or Non-Profit

  • Bronze Stevie Award for Female Executive of the Year – Government or Non-Profit –10 or Less Employees

  • Bronze Stevie Award for Most Innovative Woman of the Year - Government or Non-Profit


For five years preceding the appointment to CEO, Brenda was Director of Operations and Growth Strategies for MENTOR New York, where she developed a clear tactical growth strategy that has resulted in the organization successfully deepening its services within the New York City and Long Island communities while expanding services to Upstate New York. Her efforts helped the organization become independent, open an office in Buffalo, NY, expand staff, and raise an additional $2.3 million over the past five years. She has expanded staff capacity and efficiencies and developed quality controls and processes that support the organization's sustainability. Her efforts established an organization poised for long-term financial and programmatic growth. Her work ensured that an additional 35,000 children across the state are engaged in mentoring relationships during that time. Before joining MENTOR New York, Brenda worked for Big Brother Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) as an Associate Director of Agency Development, Northeast Region, Girl Scouts of the USA as a Volunteer Development and Diversity consultant, and United Way of Essex and West Hudson as a Director of Public Campaigns, where providing organizational development consulting support to their local affiliates. She helped support national growth strategies, diversity initiatives, local affiliate mergers, and closures.


Brenda Jiménez was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and raised in a military family stationed in Germany, Texas, and various other states. Her family settled in the Bronx in her adolescence, where she attended the prestigious Cardinal Spellman High School. She received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Seton Hall University and later pursued a Master's in Public Administration with a Non-Profit Management concentration from the Robert F. Wagner School for Public Service at New York University. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Executive Leadership from The Center of Leadership at The University of Charleston.


Since her days in college, Brenda's commitment to women's and children's issues has driven her service in the community and the catalyst to her professional choices. Brenda volunteers for organizations whose mission she is passionate about. From 2011-2016 she was Board President for AllCare Provider Services, Inc. and is the former Board Treasurer for Latinas United for Political Empowerment Political Action Committee (LUPE PAC). In 2011, she was Vice-Chair to Comité Noviembre 25th Annual Gala. Brenda has received numerous recognitions including Comité Noviembre, “Lo Mejor de Nuestra Comunidad”: “The Best in Our Community” Award 2010 and El Diario/LA PRENSA Latinas Destacadas 2004 Award. Brenda is happily married and has three daughters. She currently resides in Jersey City, NJ.

Chotsani Williams West is the Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Adjunct Professor for the College of Arts & Sciences / College of Education and Health Sciences at Adelphi University.

PLENARY: Youth Stories and Youth Leadership

Dr. Elizabeth Santiago, Liz, is the Founder of The Untold Narratives, a website currently in development that provides an inclusive space for narrative development, storytelling and community building. She is the former Chief Program Officer for MENTOR National, a national nonprofit in Boston. While at MENTOR National, she was actively involved in the management of programs and services to support and build the mentoring field. She is most proud of her work focusing on racial equity and justice in the mentoring relationship—including leading the development of the Guide to Mentoring Boys and Young Men of Color and building a solid partnership with the Critical Mentoring Institute. Critical Mentoring, coined by Dr. Torie Weiston-Serdan, marries critical race theory, youth voice, and mentoring. Liz earned a BFA in creative writing from Emerson College, a Master’s in education from Harvard University, and a PhD in education studies from Lesley University. Her first loves remain creative writing and teaching, never losing her desire to create characters based on her beloved community, or support students in leveraging narrative writing to be stronger storytellers. Liz is currently completing a YA novel to be published by Lee and Low in the fall of 2022.

Ivette Maza Cabrera is a first-generation Latina student currently finishing her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, along with an honors minor program in business at CUNY Queens College. She is a participant of the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge Program (SEEK) within CUNY, an America Needs You Fellowship alumni, and a former Youth Advocate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. Ivette also holds a Mental Health First Aid USA Certificate and promotes mental health awareness within minority communities. Upon graduation, Ivette will pursue a doctorate in School-Community Psychology at Hofstra University.

Jasiah Jackson is a former graduate of Niagara Falls High school, receiving her diploma with the quarantined class of 2020. She currently works for PPCWNY as a Patient Services Specialist where she uses her compassion and empathy to get patients the care they need and deserve. Social justice is her passion and she shows this passion through activism within the community in many ways more than one. She sat as president of Niagara Falls Youth City Council, helped co organize her school’s walkout and march to city hall and has gone to Washington DC to further her advocacy skills within the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute. Jasiah has always had a love for history for as long as she can remember showing this through her work at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center; with that, she hopes to learn more and pass that knowledge onto others.

Olivia Larson is the Executive Director of Every Little Handprint. 

Javeon Mathews is a 17 year old activist.