In February, Starbucks Canada is proud to honour Black History Month and celebrate Black excellence and the many ways its partners (employees) and communities demonstrate it every day
How the MentorME program is impacting the lives of Black youth
Madam CJ Walker was a force; her unyielding generosity only rivalled her fierce entrepreneurial spirit. A trailblazing entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and at one point the wealthiest Black woman in America, her never-give-up attitude and hustle have made her a role model for past and current generations. This is especially true for Valerie, a member of MentorME, a mentorship program developed in partnership with the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), SAY IT LOUD, Mentor Canada and Starbucks Canada designed to equip young Black Canadians with the knowledge, guidance, resources, and support to help secure employment and overcome systemic barriers and long-standing biases and stereotypes.
For two years, Valerie has been working with her mentor, Janel, a Starbucks store manager, to set goals, develop skills and access the tools she’ll need to excel academically while also accomplishing her dream of succeeding in business and following in her idol’s footsteps. The two immediately bonded over their shared experience of living in places with very little diversity.
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in Brantford, Ontario, Valerie is a recent graduate of Burman University, where she received a double degree in physiotherapy and wellness in Central Alberta. She currently runs and operates a haircare accessory business that sells satin-lined bonnets called Crowned By V, “Because everyone should treat themselves like royalty – even on those days you don’t feel your best,” explained Valerie.
The marketing inspiration came, in part, from her mentor, Janel who provides guidance in both the business and academic arenas. “Janel connected me with someone in my field and it opened my eyes to the possibilities,” Valerie said. “We talk about strategies for finding the right clientele, and how I could improve my public speaking skills. She’s really helped me grow my confidence.”
“It was just lovely seeing another woman of colour in a high-ranking position. It shows that there are no limitations. And even though you may not have grown up seeing yourself represented, if you are determined, you can one day be that representation for someone else. I have two younger siblings, one of which just started high school,” said Valerie. “The lessons I learn with Janel are something I pass on to her, as well as my friends," said Valerie.
And Valerie is not alone in recognizing the value of mentorship. Sabrina’s passion for music led her to also connect with Janel. Under Janel’s mentorship, Sabrina has been offered resources and support on her journey and has begun to forge meaningful industry connections with music producers in New York.
“She is always super excited for me, and she’s really cool to talk to,” said Sabrina. “Both of us have parents who immigrated here from the Caribbean. To have a strong Black female that I connect with on a personal level but can also provide guidance and advice on a professional level has given me lessons that I carry with me every day.”
Growing up in a Jamaican household, music was everything for Sabrina. She often collaborated with her sister to DJ at events and make music. In ninth grade, she joined an after-school program offered by Unity Charity, an organization that provides youth in under-resourced communities access to hip hop programs and workshops to help them pursue their dreams through music. When she met Janel to discuss her plans to work in the music industry, she was thrilled to meet someone like-minded and genuinely interested in her craft.
“It meant so much having that support because I am not someone who asks for help,” she added. “Whether about music or my community, having those conversations with Janel makes you want to keep going after it. It’s great knowing that someone out there is proud of what you’re doing.”
Helping both young women expand their professional networks to find new opportunities in their fields is a big piece of the work Janel does and has been critical in their development and progress, but their work together goes deeper than that.
Addressing the inequality of opportunity for advantaged youth and marginalized communities has been a core focus for Starbucks in Canada. By working with powerful partners like Mentor Canada, the BBPA and SAY IT LOUD, the company believes mentorship is a powerful way to support young people in achieving their dreams and aspirations, invest in the communities it serves and address the opportunity divide for Black youth.
“Mentorship can act as a critical lifeline and a connection to hope and the future. Young people need this, especially in times of uncertainty like a global pandemic,” said Tracy Luca-Huger, the Senior Director Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives at Mentor Canada. “MentorME is an important steppingstone to bridge meaningful connections to role models and support through mentoring.”
“Jamaican-Canadian billionaire Michael Lee Chin is quoted as saying, ‘Find a mentor. Find out what they did to get where they are and do exactly the same thing,” said SAY IT LOUD co-founders, Roderick Brereton and Farley Flex. “From the beginning of time, mentorship has been an integral part of Africa and Black Culture. Ancient traditions like the ‘Rites of Passage’ have relied on mentoring as a mechanism for passing down learning generationally. Mentoring can be integral to deepening the pool of brilliance, so that generations to come can manifest the stunted, yet undeniable, greatness of a people.”
To learn more and register for the MentorME program, visit here.