New Mentorship Program Supports Black Youth in Niagara

Feb 15, 2022

Role models are an important part of our lives. They inspire us, and to some, they were our childhood heroes. Our role models reflected our own hopes and dreams back at us, and encouraged us to think that, if we put our minds to it, we could be just like them and achieve our goals.

We all deserve to have someone to look up to. However, research has indicated that racialized youth are less likely to have natural mentors. A partnership between the DSBN and TOES Niagara (Tools of Empowerment for Success) is working to close this gap by introducing the What They See is What They Will BE’ mentorship program. With a grant from the Niagara Community Foundation, DSBN and TOES Niagara are offering Black youth a chance to connect with a Black mentor, where they will see themselves reflected in aspirational career fields, and be supported in reaching their goals.

“This mentorship program is a fundamental disruption to anti-Black racism, and a critical step in building the capacity and support for future Black leaders within their community,” said TOES Niagara Executive Director Nyarayi Kapisavanhu. “It not only answers a call from young Black people to be connected to leaders and role models, but also to the need to support and facilitate adult role models so that they can share their experience in a way that is sensitive to anti-Black racism.”

In addition to pairing Black youth with mentors who are Black community leaders in Niagara, students will also be participating in workshops on civic engagement, Black history, financial literacy and mental health among others. For example, a core focus will be on the participants’ mental health and well-being through a module facilitated by Dr. Oyedeji Ayonrinde, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Queens University. Mentee’s families will have the opportunity to participate in some workshops as well.

“Students have told me they didn’t know they could have a certain career because they hadn’t seen someone from their background working in that field. With this initiative, Black youth will learn from someone who is in the industry they are interested in, allowing them to see themselves in the same job when they grow up. A lot of the time, seeing really is believing,” said Pratima Burton, Student Achievement Leader of Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism at the DSBN. “This mentorship program is a significant opportunity for students to see beyond their own world.”

“Exceptional programs such this mentorship initiative will be transformative for all involved,” said Bryan Rose, Niagara Community Foundation’s Executive Director. “It is the grassroots work done by champions and leaders in our community, like Nyarayi Kapisavanhu and her organization, who create, build and inspire those around them to engage in making a positive difference for racialized youths in Niagara. The Foundation is proud of our continued partnership with TOES Niagara and the DSBN in providing the funding to get this program up and operational.”

“All mentors, from across all races, will be trained in the cultural competencies and racial nuances that impact Black youth. Through these conversations, the pervasively rooted anti-Black racism that erodes the identity and progress of young Black people will be addressed,” said Executive Director Kapisavanhu.

This is a locally-developed bilingual mentorship initiative, and it’s available to Black youth ages 12-18 living in the Niagara Region. Students and families who want to sign up can contact TOES Niagara directly by emailing

The District School Board of Niagara gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Niagara Community Foundation. The Foundation builds permanently endowed charitable funds and provides grants to eligible charitable organizations in culture, health, education, environment, recreation and social service sectors.