Affinity Honors Black History Month

Black History month is a time of acknowledging historical leaders, (s)heroes, and chain-breakers. We pause to recognize the undeniable strength, courage, fear, faith, and innovation it took for them to fight for everyone’s future. The impact and sacrifice of Ruby Bridges, Mary McLeod Bethune, Madam C.J. Walker, W.E.B. Dubois, and the list continues. We honor our past and share, in hope, with the trailblazers of our present.

Just short of 5 decades ago–two generations ago (the era of our grandparents)–black women in leadership was unheard of. In most cases illegal. If not for the (s)heroes of our past, the picture before you would be but a blur in a black woman’s imagination.

Today’s Black Leaders are agents of change constantly pushing against stigmas, laws, prejudices, to name a few. Black leadership requires sacrifice and willingness to make an impact for the betterment of everyone’s future. It is challenging the status quo, proving to community members your eligibility to overachieve, and not being afraid to make your own table. Black leadership is being legacy focused, breaking generational curses, and marching against unjust generational laws. It’s being strong for generations of young leaders watching you now and those who will read about you in the future. It’s an infinite amount of stepping up the plate, and eradicating challenges, and we meet each challenge with grace.

The road to progress is continuous and the legacy lasts for generations. I’d love to grab coffee at (black coffee shops) and chat with you about it sometimes! 

What history are you choosing to make today? In the next five decades what story will people read about you? #BlackWomanMakingHistory #BlackHistoryMonth #AffinityMentoring

2022 DEI Training Series Reflections

May 11, 2022 | By Cassandra Kiger

As part of our 2021 Community Listening Project we asked the public if we should provide extra training for mentors related to diversity, equity, and inclusion topics specific to mentoring.  Ninety-two percent of respondents said that it was either important, or very important for our organization to provide this (page 4), so we complied! 

If you’re not completely sure how putting time and resources into DEI work relates to mentoring, and us fulfilling our mission and vision for Affinity, we love learning with you! Check out the extensive research we have been conducting to make sure we facilitate amazing mentoring in this recent blog. We are grateful for the Steelcase Foundation whose grant has made it possible for this training to be free and widely available for AM partners, staff, mentors, and board members. 

Anti-Racism Training Series

In February, March, and April of 2022 Affinity Mentoring facilitated a three tiered training (levels 101, 201, and a community panel) focused on Anti-Racism in Education and Mentoring. We had 71 total attendees at these three, free training sessions, in addition to three expert trainers and 5 panelists. 

DEI 101 Training: Our trainers included Vanessa Jimenez, Founder/CEO of Mezcla Mosaic Collaborative and Marlene Kowalski-Braun, GVSU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Development Deputy Inclusion and Equity Officer for our 101 training. They facilitated a brave, healthy, inquisitive space for individuals to begin thinking about how other’s racial life experiences might be different from our own, and why it matters in education and mentoring. They invited participants to engage in critical reflection about foundations of DEI work, including defining diversity, equity, inclusion, and intersectionality both personally and organizationally. They helped participants develop an understanding of social identity, white supremacy, implicit bias, and microaggressions and how they shape a person’s experience of power, privilege, and oppression both individually and organizationally. Lastly, we discussed our personal and collective responsibility to keep ourselves and each other accountable to anti-racist work, especially in mentoring. 

DEI 201 Training: Christine Mwangi, CEO and Founder of Grounded In Equity, President and CEO of Be A Rose, member of the Affinity Mentoring Board of Directors, and KDL Director of Fund Development, led our 201 training. We dove deeper together into how race impacts education in our community, and the individual and community-level steps that we can take to support all students succeeding. Christine helped us define and understand specific terms and ideas when discussing the racial achievement gap in our local schools, including redlining and its lasting effects on school systems. We discussed systemic outcomes that disproportionately affect students of color within the academic sector, and how individuals can help make a positive impact through interactions with students and mentees. Below are a list of excellent video resources that Christine shared with us. 


DEI 301 Training: Our third training for this year was actually a panel discussion with local experts on DEI, education, and mentoring who helped us take the things we learned in our previous two trainings, and understand them more fully in Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Our panel included Kyle Lim of the Urban Core Collective, Rafael Castanon of Health Net of West Michigan (and AM mentor), Alex Kuiper of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Brandy Lovelady Mitchell of the Michigan Education Association, and Erika VanDyke of the Urban Core Collective (and an AM mentor).

Mentors, staff, and partners were invited to submit questions to the panel ahead of time. Some of our key questions and take always from the nearly two hours of discussion included:

  • We learned about institutional racism, redlining, and other systems that make racism a part of our schools. Sometimes it feels like the problems are so big that there is very little we can do about them. Is that true? 
    • Panelist responses: We need to remember that progress is not linear, and we need to adapt to changes so that we keep moving forward. Racism is meant to exhaust and paralyze use; when issues are this complex, remember to focus on students, families, and communities and their needs. The work is worth it, because racism continues to hurt real people, and we cannot move at the same pace that the resistance is moving; we have to work faster if we actually want to make change. We need to imagine the future we want to live in and begin shaping it, even if we can’t fully see it yet. Never forget that system level change can start with voting! Vote for people who will make the changes you want to see. 
  • Is there any work being done already in Grand Rapids to help make our schools anti-racist? 
    • Panelist responses: Challenge your school board and the schools executive cabinet to make sure that they are engaging in real DEI work! You can send them letters, and attend school board meetings (even if you don’t have students attending that school), and the Urban Core Collective can help you prepare letters and statements; they are also helping to organize parents/caregivers, and you can contact if you want to participate. 
  • What are ways that we can start conversations about race with children and students without scaring them?
    • Panelist responses: Let discussions be organic and student-led, and never engage in conversations with your mentee because you want to, but let them lead so that you don’t cause extra harm. Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer. You can discover the answer alongside students and mentees, and even ask your Affinity Site Coordinator to help you find resources to do that. 
    • Always validate student emotions and feelings, and ask them open-ended questions, and provide them with clarifying statements to help them process their own thoughts and feelings. Model to them by doing your own mirror work and showing them that it is healthy to learn new things. 
  • Mentors: what is something that you have learned about your mentee’s culture from mentoring?
    • Panelist (and attendee) answers: Find out what your mentee is passionate about, and let that lead your conversations and learning! As they get more comfortable, they will be excited to share, and feel safe to share more intimate information, like their culture, with you. 
  • How can we encourage mentees to embrace their own culture?
    • Panelist answers: Model this behavior to your mentees by talking about your own life experiences and culture, and then inviting your mentee into the conversation. 
    • Use diverse books and resources in the mentor centers to talk about different cultures, and find resources that match your mentee’s culture and invite them to be proud about it. 
    • Make sure to connect the micro level work with the macro level work; we won’t need to help students “rediscover” or share their cultures and experiences if we fight against the systems that make it hard for them to share those things naturally. By improving the whole system, we make this easier and healthier for each student!
DEI and Anti-Racism Resources

Some resources and reading that panelists recommended included:

Lastly, we were able to share some resources with all of our participants that Affinity Mentoring has been developing to help give mentors and partners more resources to continue learning and growing together with each other and their mentees. We highly encourage you to check out and use these resources, and talk to your Affinity Mentoring team members for more learning opportunities!

2022 Community Listening Project

As we close out this 2021-2022 mentoring year, we will be publishing our full 2022 Community Listening Project results showing that:

  • 85.2% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “publicly support groups of people who are dismissed or unsafe in our community”,
  • 85.9% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we put time and resources into “finding more diverse mentors”, and
  • 80.8% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “provide yearly diversity training for mentors”. 

Based on this, and the overwhelmingly positive attendance and feedback from this year’s trainings, we will continue to provide new training series each year, giving mentors and partners opportunities to learn about key areas of identity development for students, and how it relates to creating and maintaining an amazing mentoring program with short and long term student benefits. Our 2022-2023 mentoring year DEI training topics will focus on gender identity and sexual orientation. We promise to continue listening to you and your needs, and making decisions for our programming based on the most up to date, peer-reviewed research on how to support students and fulfill the mission and vision of Affinity Mentoring to the best of our ability. 

Affinity Intern Spotlight: Lauren

April 2022

Lauren Enos, MSW Intern

Lauren Enos joined Affinity’s team in May of 2021 as the Masters of Social Work (MSW) Intern. Lauren is finishing her masters at Grand Valley State University this month. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Wagner College in New York City.

During her time at Affinity, Lauren has supported both the programming and administrative teams, honing her skills in:

  • Grant writing;
  • Program evaluation;
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion;
  • Youth development; and
  • Community partnerships

In addition, she served on both the Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. Post-internship, Lauren has been contracted to lead Affinity’s DEI Committee.

“It is difficult to put into words what my experience at Affinity Mentoring has meant to me. I decided to pursue my graduate studies in my mid-thirties, as a recent Michigan transplant, with a 2 year old. I entertained being able to pursue my passion for identity development and mentoring, one that was sparked back in undergrad,” explains Lauren. “In preparing for joining the Affinity team as an MSW intern, I had no idea I would meet some of the most dedicated, compassionate and caring individuals. I am thankful for the time and opportunities Affinity has provided for me, but I am even more thankful to know that there are organizations filled with people that value caring for each other, making space for difficult times, and leaning into difficult conversations. Affinity has opened the door for me to explore my passions, and I am forever grateful,” she says.

In addition, Lauren will be presenting at the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC) and the Center for 21st Century Studies for her amazing website compilation of Anti-racism Resources for Education and Mentoring.

She has been selected for the Graduate School Citations for Academic Excellence in the Winter 2022 semester. This is an honor given by Grand Valley State University to graduate students who have been nominated by the faculty for Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusion and Diversity at GVSU. 

Lauren also received the Diversity in Human Rights Award from the GVSU School of Social Work. We’re proud to be part of Lauren’s journey and grateful for the insights and initiatives she provided to our team. To learn more about our internship offerings, contact or see what’s available on our Careers Page.

Statement on the GRPD Officer Involved Shooting of Patrick Lyoya

April 14, 2022

Yesterday, April 13 at 3pm, the footage of the murder of Patrick Lyoya who was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids Police officer was released. It is tragic and brutal. Patrick was a refugee, Black, and did not speak English as a first language. At Affinity Mentoring we clearly recognize that these attributes hit on multiple checkboxes for many of our staff, families, students, and schools that make today a terrifying reality check, and can foster extremely valid fear, anger, and anxiety. 

We support the essential voices and partners in our community such as NAACP Grand Rapids, ACLU of Michigan, and others who are calling for clarity, justice, transparency, and change. Real, true, systemic change in our community. They are leaders that we look up to, listen to, and follow as experts and leaders in situations such as this, and we support their voice and efforts. 

Our first and foremost response is to our immediate and most important constituents: our students and families. Students throughout our entire city today are watching this unfold. Hiding this information, lying about it, covering it up, or invalidating their response to it is disrespectful and harmful in both the short and long term. We ask that everyone who is around students today please respect that their fear is real and valid, and that the best thing a safe, healthy adult can do is provide validation, support, and a listening ear. As adults, we can be strong enough to sit in our discomfort to provide a healthy and safe space for students to talk about their fears. We will continue to provide resources and tools to support students and families. 

Our mission and vision focus on creating brave spaces in a diverse and inclusive community, amplifying the voices of youth, and fostering spaces of belonging. We hold true to these statements on both easy and hard days, through enjoyable and despairing conversations, with crafts and crying, because it all matters. We have individuals who encourage us to “stay the course”, focusing on students and mentoring, which we are wholly committed to. We are doing exactly that when we dedicate time, resources, and attention to this situation. For students to focus in school, engage in healthy ways, and work towards successful futures we have to give them room to be whole, healthy, safe, and cared for human beings, in every part of their identity. Today is a day when many students feel that pieces of their identities are threatened. We stand against this. We continue to say that Black Lives Matter, and that healthy identity development is essential to human development, and therefore mentoring.

If you are looking for action steps today, here are some resources we recommend:

  • Directly support the Lyoya family financially as they attempt to move through this tragedy by contributing here
  • Write to our local officials to demand that transparency and justice are found during this investigation. 
  • Attend, watch, and participate in your local Grand Rapids City Commission meetings to hold city officials accountable.
  • Follow leaders in our community who work tirelessly to bring justice and change to issues such as these, listening to them and engaging in their work:
  • Prioritize your mental health and well-being, and that of your loved ones. 
    • If you are an employer, prioritize your staff and their families by providing them resources such as EAP programs, paid time to seek out therapeutic services, and extra, flexible time off to process and care for themselves. 
    • Know that it is completely ok not to watch the brutal video footage, and certainly restrict yourself and loved ones from watching it repetitively. You can still engage and act even if you have not seen the camera footage of the shooting, and repeated watching only increases trauma responses. 
    • Make sure BIPOC adults and students in our community can get access to therapeutic support for, and BY clinicians of color, such as through the Mental Health Clinicians of Color group in Grand Rapids. 
    • Encourage and help  students  seek out support and resources that their school is offering, both this week and in the long term. 
    • Use some of these resources to talk to students around you about racism, police violence, and belonging in our community:
      • Helping Children Cope After A Traumatic Event
        • Validate all students’ feelings. 
        • Ask open-ended questions.
        • Allow students to express themselves in their preferred mediums, whether through talking, drawing, acting, toys, etc. 
      • Talk to ALL students around you, including if they are white and speak English as a first language. Be an excellent example of how to express and process complicated emotions, engage empathically with other people’s feelings, and take action in support of others. 
      • Check out our Antiracism, Identity Development, and Mentoring page to learn more about how you can positively support student growth and identities. Many students may be feeling today like pieces of their identities are dangerous, bad, invalid, or a liability; let’s fight against that by supporting their whole selves!


Cassandra Kiger, Executive Director

DEI 301 Training: Meet the Panelists

April 2022

DEI 301 Training | Wednesday, April 27 6-8pm

This is a hyper-local panel focused on anti-racism in education and mentoring. This is a brave, healthy, inquisitive space for us to dive deeper into how race impacts education in our community, and the individual and community level steps that we can take to support all students succeeding. We will have specific tools and ideas for how mentors can support their mentees. Before and during the event attendees will be able to submit questions for the panel members to answer.


We are grateful for the Steelcase Foundation whose grant has made it possible for this training to be free and widely available for AM partners.

Meet the Panelists

Rafael Castanon (he/him)

Rafael Castanon is the partner engagement manager at Health Net since December 2019, working with Health Net partners to meet patients SDOH needs through navigation assistance. He graduated from GVSU in 2009 with a degree in Sociology. Rafael has worked in project management at Kimberly-Clark Professional focused on safety and continuous improvement. Rafael transitioned to Legal Specialist at Spectrum Health in 2014. Rafael worked in the legal department and the development of Spectrum Health policies, procedures and board governance. 

Rafael has also been an active member of the local community serving on the board for the Creston Neighborhood Association in 2013, Grand Rapids Board of Zoning appeals in 2015 and one of the co-founders of the West Michigan Latino Network. 

Alex Kuiper (he/him)

Alex Kuiper and English Language Learner Specialist for grades 3 through 5 at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools. In addition to his work as an ELL Specialist, Alex is the founding co-chair of the Godfrey-Lee Equity Steering Committee. Through this committee, Alex has worked with staff, students, parents and community stakeholders to both assess the current status of GLPS, as well as to create opportunities for growth in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Alex is a certified Equity Literacy trainer through the Equity Literacy Institute out of Virginia, and also has worked with Learning for Justice (formally Teaching Tolerance) on creating safe spaces for dialogue in both the classroom and workplace, as well as training on embedding social justice standards into the core curriculum. 

Kyle Lim (he/him)

Kyle is deeply passionate about supporting communities of color organizing for social change. He has experience in building organizational coalitions to support grassroots
movements against gentrification, police violence and education justice. He strongly believes in the power of radical imaginations that allow communities and organizations to find solutions to problems outside of dominant ways of thinking and doing.

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell is the progeny of the greater Grand Rapids Area. Grounded in her lived experiences and her community-focused parents’ love and human- centered values, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell has become a formidable lifetime advocate, leader, and educator; she has worked feverishly on initiatives, structures and policies that yield more inclusive growth, strong communities, quality public education, and equitable systems that honor and maximize human potential.

She began her career at what is now Kent County’s Network 180, connecting children and families to mental health and substance abuse services. From there she took her love of children to the most logical place – our public schools, as a School Counselor, Guidance Classroom Teacher, Consultant and Principal. Dr. Lovelady-Mitchell made innovative and inclusive strides as a regional leader at Kent Intermediate School District. She is now serving as Michigan Education Association’s founding Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In these positions, Brandy created and facilitated engaging and restorative programs like Butterflies, Nurtured Seeds, Boys-to-Men and Educators of the Yam.

Dr. Mitchell recently became elected to the Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees. She enjoys spending her free time with her family, reading, and attempting to learn golf, which comes at the expense, unfortunately, of her husband’s bent and battered golf clubs.

Erika VanDyke (she/ella) 

Erika was born in Bogotá, Colombia and has lived in Grand Rapids for most of her life. She has been an Affinity mentor at the Godfrey Lee Early Childhood Center since January 2021, regularly participates in the Latina Network of West Michigan, and serves as the communications coordinator for the Latino Community Coalition.  Erika works as program officer at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation facilitating community committees of high school, Latinx, Black, and LGBTQ grantmakers, and supports the advocacy arm of the Foundation’s equitable education strategy.  She is also part of the Urban Core Collective team, working as project manager for their Transformational Leadership Program.  Erika holds bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Women and Gender Studies from Grand Valley State University, and a master’s degree in Community Psychology from Michigan State University.