On Friday, January 27, the Choose Clean Water Coalition held the wrap-up for the inaugural session of our Young Professionals of Color (YPC) mentorship program. The informal happy hour was a blast. The food was delicious and the wine was flowing. But more importantly, the mood was one of camaraderie and excitement. The Coalition is very proud of what we were able to accomplish with the YPC program since the kick off at our conference last May, and on a personal level, I am extremely proud of the program as well. Chante was the brains behind the operation, but she graciously let me take the lead last year. It has been educational and enlightening every step of the way.
By all measures, the program was a success. We were initially unsure of how much interest there would be when we decided to start the program. Fortunately, we received requests to join from a robust group of people for the pilot program—eight mentor/mentee pairs all told. Not bad for a first go around.
We asked each pair to have at least one monthly call and at least three in-person meetings throughout the duration of the program, and by my count, participants went above and beyond; the pairs seemed to truly connect by exchanging regular texts, meeting for the occasional coffee, helping each other plan events, etc. If the conversations at our happy hour were any indication, it seems as though the mentors and mentees became trusted friends. One participant shared, “I really enjoyed the trusted relationship I was able to build with my mentor. It was really nice to have someone to vent to and ask for advice, knowing they would provide me with honest and experienced expertise.” That’s powerful, and that’s just the kind of relationship we wanted to foster through the YPC program.
Like any program, however, we want YPC to grow and get better with every iteration. We plan on rolling out the second session at this year’s Choose Clean Water Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia (breakfast kick off on the morning of May 24th). Based on input from this year’s participants, we’re going to have more consistent check-ins between mentors and mentees, more topic-driven goals, and will aim to have more program-wide get-togethers and team building exercises. Who knows, we may even have t-shirts!
We’re hoping to grow in size, too! If you or anyone you know would like to be part of this year’s YPC program, do not hesitate to drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please note, all mentors from last year identified as people of color. We are opening up the mentor pool to those who do not identify as such for this coming year. We believe that this will go a long way in ensuring a rich group of experiences to share going forward.
When Chante passed the YPC torch to me, I was admittedly a bit confused—why would a young professional of color hand the reigns of this program to someone who, while a young professional, is so obviously white? I think it’s critical for those of us who identify as white to keep learning about ongoing inequities in our environmental community and to keep doing our part to make ours the most inclusive community possible. Regardless of whether or not it was a measured move to put me in charge, I know my perspective allowed me to experience the program through a unique lens. I’ve learned about the lack of people of color in the environmental community, particularly in leadership positions, and I feel humbled to be but a small part of the solution.