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. 

Videos:

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 betsaida@uccgr.org 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. 

Response to Oakland School Shooting

December 8, 2021 | By Cassandra Kiger

Sad. Angry. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. Devastation. Loss of Words. Grief. Scared. 

As our Affinity Mentoring team discussed the most recent school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, these were the feelings we talked about:

  • How unbelievable this feels to have to consider when sending students to school, and also how obviously this will keep happening until something systemic changes;
  • the immediate repercussions we witnessed in our partner schools as other students, young and old, all clearly hurting and without means to accurately and safely communicate their needs, imitated what they heard and saw;
  • the lack of resources schools have to address the underlying needs and concerns behind these events, and our fears that more resources will be directed towards policing and suspensions rather than mental health resources and supports;
  • how desperately we want to galvanize the resources at our own disposal to make sure no student, ever, feels that they are without hope, resources, or a trusted someone to talk to and express their feelings, their fears, their hopes, and their needs to. 

We want to affirm your right and your need to experience so many feelings in times like these. Hard feelings. Uncomfortable feelings. Overwhelming feelings. Conflicting feelings. Feelings that make you feel embarrassed. Feelings that are different from those around you. We have to stop repressing our feelings and our grief, and we need to practice safely and appropriately expressing them. We need to demonstrate and model to the students around us that feelings are okay, they are normal, we all have them. And we need to model to students around us what to do with feelings; not to shove them down, not to ignore them until it’s too late, not to use them for pain or harm to others, but to express them in safe and healthy ways. 

There are no doubts that math and literacy are critical for the future of students, our community, and our world. But math and literacy at the expense of mental and physical health and safety are irrelevant. Our book-smarts will not matter if we do not know how to communicate with each other, resolve conflict, create boundaries for ourselves and others, express our needs and feelings, get support, and experience a full range of emotions. These things, too, are absolutely critical. Will you join us in treating them like they are? Sometimes it can feel scary or overwhelming to talk about mental health and violence. We want to support you with resources and tools. 

It is always ok to talk to someone about whether or not they are having thoughts about harming themselves or others. Talking with them about it does not increase their chances of causing harm to someone, it actually decreases it.

If you or someone you know is at risk of harming yourself/themselves or others, you can visit the Pine Rest Psychiatric Urgent Care Center at: 

  • Pine Rest Mental Health Services
  • Building E, Entrance E1
  • 300 68th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI

Or call them at 616.455.9200 or visit pinerest.org/urgent. They are open everyday except on major holidays. 

Seeking out mental health services like therapy or counseling is never weak. It takes incredible strength and bravery to admit when you could use extra support. No matter what gender you identify as, what race or ethnicity you identify as, where you are from, or what you were taught (or not taught) about mental health, we support you. You are brave. You are worth it. 

  • You can support students by  advocating for more in school resources to support student mental health and social emotional learning, rather than increased policing. 
  • Sign up for our newsletter at affinitymentoring.org to learn about ways to support students and families, and things that impact our mental health and social-emotional well-being every month, and follow up on Facebook and Instagram for weekly tips and reminders. 

Our Mission is to facilitate equitable growth in academics, social emotional skills, and self-esteem through mutually beneficial mentoring relationships. We believe in cultivating a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community.

Our vision is to be a leading nonprofit for fostering belonging alongside young people, families, and community.

100 Days, 100 Mentors

Each year we have over 100 students on our waiting list, asking for mentors across our four sites.

We need your help.

In the next 100 days, our goals are to:

Will you join us?

Become a Mentor Match Sponsor. Make a small, monthly contribution to Affinity. Your gift will not only help students academically, but it’ll also give them the social and emotional support they need to work towards a positive future.

Become a Mentor. Sign up today to mentor one student for one hour week starting this fall and ask a friend to mentor too! [Read how we’ve transitioned mentoring to be virtual in our COVID-19 Response Plan]

Share our campaign on social media with the hashtag #100days100mentors tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Kent District Library Partnership

By Rachel Humphreys

Kent District Library (KDL) has been an excellent partner alongside Affinity Mentoring for the past year. “KDL leadership is proud to support Affinity Mentoring and grow our partnership this fall. All KDL employees are encouraged to become mentors. To help make this a reality all KDL employees can use one paid hour of time each week to mentor,” explains Brian Mortimore, Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development at KDL and mentor at Burton Elementary.

“Promoting literacy skills is what we’re all about so it was a natural fit for KDL to partner with Affinity Mentoring and encourage our staff to mentor young people and we’re proud to continue that tradition in the year ahead,” continues Brian.

KDL plans to help recruit more employees this year even though mentoring will look at bit different. For the health and safety of students and mentors, this year mentoring will be in a virtual format (read more on virtual mentoring). However, what hasn’t changed is the support, “mentors will continue to have extensive support from site coordinators at each school, and support students in building skills in leadership, self-confidence, literacy and math,” says Cassandra Kiger, Executive Director of Affinity Mentoring.



Last year 8 KDL employees served as mentors and we want to highlight what a few had to say about their experience.

Julie Cook at Godfrey-Lee ECC

Julie Cook | Wyoming Assistant Branch Librarian
“My favorite memory with my mentee is doing hands-on literacy activities, fooling them that we are just playing a game, but in reality, we are practicing important literacy skills. I would highly suggest that KDL employees take the opportunity to be a positive role model in a child’s life, especially if they are located near your KDL branch. You can promote KDL materials and programing ideas to a child. It really shows that an adult in her life, outside of her family, really cares for their success socially, emotionally, and academically.”

Anjie Gleisner at Godfrey-Lee ECC

Anjie Gleisner | Wyoming Branch Manager
“As a youth librarian turned library manager, I often miss reading to my story time kiddos! It’s wonderful to be able to share books with a child again. Mentoring has been a great way to establish a connection with a school near my library and it’s a wonderful change of pace to my work week. It’s something that I have always wanted to do but could not because of my work schedule. My employer allowed me the flexibility to do this during the workday. This was a huge plus! It’s something that I look forward to every week.”




Learn more about our community partnerships or sign up to become a mentor.

100 Days, 100 Mentors

Each year we have over 100 students on our waiting list, asking for mentors across our four sites.

We need your help.

In the next 100 days, our goals are to:

Will you join us?

Become a Mentor Match Sponsor. Make a small, monthly contribution to Affinity. Your gift will not only help students academically, but it’ll also give them the social and emotional support they need to work towards a positive future.

Become a Mentor. Sign up today to mentor one student for one hour week starting this fall and ask a friend to mentor too! [Read how we are transitioning to virtual mentoring for Fall 2020 in our COVID-19 Response Plan]

Last year, we were able to recruit 115 new mentors! Help us support even more students in our community. Share our campaign on social media with the hashtag #100days100mentors and tag us on Facebook or LinkedIn.