The Vital Role of Black Mentorship in Stem

The Vital Role of Black Mentorship

By Kevin Gray, CIO at City of Burbank

I recently came across a powerful quote from Prenti Hemphill’s book “You are your best thing: Vulnerability, shame resilience, and the Black experience,” which stated, “Healing Black trauma is one of the most worthwhile endeavors we all can undertake.” This statement resonated deeply, underscoring the reality of our shared trauma and the urgent need for healing—with mentorship emerging as a vital tool in this journey towards healing. In today’s society, the importance of Black mentorship cannot be emphasized enough.

I’ve always tried to do my part for the community and mentor young people, whether it’s through coaching pop warner football or baseball, serving on boards that serve youth, or acting as a mentor to STEM Advantage Scholars. However, my commitment to mentoring young people in my community took on new meaning when I learned of a distressing incident in my neighborhood involving teenagers in a smash-and-grab burglary. The news prompted reflection on the recurring narrative of young lives disrupted by adversity. Unfortunately, tragedies like this are not isolated occurrences, but they represent a broader pattern of dashed potential and unfortunate outcomes for minority youth. Doing my part mentoring no longer felt like enough; I had to convince others to join the cause. When I try to convince executives of the benefits of mentorship, I focus on three things: the impact on the student, the impact on the executive, and the impact on STEM overall.

Impact on the Student: Navigating life’s obstacles is challenging for minority youth and young adults, who often face socioeconomic disparities, systemic inequities, restricted opportunities, and a lack of positive role models. Surviving in academia requires finding supporters, allies, and mentors who can provide guidance, support, and encouragement. When I enter into a mentoring relationship, my goal is to build genuine friendships by offering a trusted ear for them to share their thoughts. I make it a priority to meet with each of my mentees regularly and make myself available whenever they need support.

Who better to discuss the advantages mentors have on STEM Advantage Scholars than a STEM Advantage Scholar themselves? My mentee, Charles Bickham, shared, “Being a mentee with STEM Advantage has profoundly impacted my personal and professional growth. Kevin’s guidance and unwavering support have been invaluable. His willingness to provide honest feedback, even when it’s challenging to hear, has been instrumental in putting me on the right path. Through this mentorship, I’ve been able to avoid potential obstacles that I might have encountered on my own. Kevin not only serves as a guide but also as a source of motivation and confidence, inspiring me to believe in my capabilities and consider possibilities beyond what I thought I could do. The sense of accountability and mutual growth is a remarkable aspect of our relationship too. Sharing achievements and seeking advice has become a regular part of our interactions, which has led to a strong connection. Moreover, Kevin’s insights extend beyond the professional realm, encompassing valuable life advice. The perspective you offer is particularly enriching, providing me with insights and experiences I may not have encountered otherwise. Overall, this mentorship has had a highly positive impact on my journey by influencing my professional and personal growth and much more.”

Personal Impact: Serving as a mentor within STEM Advantage has been profoundly fulfilling and rewarding. It allows me to help young individuals surmount obstacles and achieve success. The conversations we share are not only gratifying but also enlightening. Have you ever heard the old adage, when you teach, you learn? As mentors, we aim to cultivate environments that champion diversity and inclusivity. By forging connections with our mentees, we gain invaluable insights into diverse cultures and lived experiences, fostering empathy and challenging biases. Moreover, mentorship initiatives contribute to diversifying the STEM landscape, resulting in more inclusive and innovative work environments.

Impact on STEM: Mentorship is instrumental in diversifying the STEM field. Diverse teams bring together individuals with unique perspectives, experiences, and problem-solving approaches. This diversity of thought fosters creativity and innovation, leading to the development of new ideas, products, and technologies that benefit society as a whole and address complex challenges.

Having a diverse workforce in STEM is not only a matter of social justice and equity but also a strategic imperative for driving innovation, addressing complex challenges, and ensuring long-term economic prosperity. By promoting diversity and inclusion in STEM, we can create a more equitable, innovative, and sustainable future.

We are taking on a collective obligation to help shape a future that is full of potential, optimism, and endless possibilities. Interested in becoming a STEM Advantage mentor? Reach out to Lee Ann Kline at to join us and answer the call to mentorship.