Why Mentorship is Critical for the Success of BIPOC Youth and Young Professionals

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
January 14, 2022

During National Mentorship Month, we interviewed Sam Effah, RBC Olympian and Future Launch Ambassador about how he is inspiring change for a new generation through mentorship.

You should be judged for your character, not what you look like. That’s a lesson Sam Effah took to heart when he was younger. It’s why he wrote “Running While Black,” a searing first-person account of being a Black athlete, racially profiled, the everyday challenges he faces in the corporate world tackling unconscious biases and how he felt after the deaths of George Floyd and Philandro Castile. Writing his story solidified a desire to give back to a new generation of underrepresented youth in his role as a member of the Youth Strategy and Innovation team at RBC. Effah knows how important mentorship can be — when he hit the ground running beyond track and field as a public speaker over the last decade, clocking over 120 appearances across the country, the feedback to his lived experience as an athlete and entrepreneur was immediate.

“As a role model and mentor to a ton of kids,” Effah says, “it's important for them to know that I went through situations where I have been discriminated against.” His mission, to mentor others and inspire change for a new generation, is at the heart of who he is, and the heart of RBC’s initiative, RBC Future Launch.

The former Canadian track champion and RBC Olympian is intent on changing a lot of things, and it all starts with being front and center as a brand ambassador for RBC Future Launch, a 10-year, $500 million dollar commitment to empower young people  across Canada. More importantly, $50 million of that funding is earmarked to combat systemic racism and provide seed money for thousands of BIPOC youth to gain valuable work experience and access to mentorship opportunities. It’s another opportunity for Effah to reach even more underrepresented youth.

“The mentors I've had in my life are individuals who have not only supported me, advised me, and guided me, they've provided me with the right tools to be successful,” Effah says. “I look at a mentor as somebody who sees the mistakes they've had in their life, and with the individual that they're mentoring, guide you away from having those experiences. They streamline you along. They bring opportunities and essentially coach you to your successes. I wouldn't be where I am today without the mentors I've had.”

Effah, who grew up in Calgary and is now based in Toronto, turns to his own mentor, Mark Beckles, the VP of Social Impact and Innovation at RBC, for guidance. “He taught me it’s important to be more than just an athlete.” When Effah introduces himself, he adds the words and athlete to the end of the sentence because he is so much more than just a sprinter. Beckles imparted another piece of advice that Effah took to heart —make sure your passion shines through. “If you’re passionate about social impact, let that shine through in the programs that you work with.”

Being a mentor has given Effah clarity and purpose. He goes to work thinking, “Who can I help today?” Young people tell him how important it is to see someone that looks like them speak in front of an audience. Effah’s career path lets students know there’s a role model out there. Too often, mentorship and guidance come too late for BIPOC youth, Effah says. Buried in loans, students can lose sight of the bigger picture halfway through university, and some are drowning in debt. He says 94 percent of BIPOC youth aged 15-25 polled say they would like to obtain a bachelor’s degree but only 60% believe they can truly achieve that goal. When he read that statistic, Effah’s heart hurt. That was him once upon a time, doubting his own talents because he didn’t have visible role models to turn to. It’s why he’s so active in the community. “Hopefully somebody can see me and say, ‘Hey, if Sam's doing it, I can do it.’' By engaging with BIPOC high school students, Effah hopes to expand their consciousness. It’s not simply about obtaining a university degree, Effah says. There are plenty of skilled trades that pay well. Take carpentry, he says. “I want to be able to put every opportunity on the line and say, ‘Hey, this is something that you can really do well at.’ These are skills that nobody can take from you.” Students are surprised to hear how lucrative carpentry can be, and Effah urges them to think even bigger, like running their own business with these skills. 

RBC Future Launch is a critical step in delivering results and action to underrepresented communities, and Effah plans on being part of the change for the long haul. When he’s not training for the Olympics in the 100m dash, Effah is out there on the speaking circuit, trying to inspire others to pursue their goals. He’s using his platform as a former RBC Olympian and former Amazing Race contestant to inspire young athletes. And he’s helping early professional BIPOC youth grow their networks and obtain tangible work experience as part of RBC Future Launch’s financial pledge. The bank recently partnered with the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN), committing $4.5 million to develop over 1000 early-career Black professionals in the tech sector and fund the CULTIVATE mentorship program, which will pair 350 youth with executives for early career coaching. Additionally, Effah says, there are several scholarship funds for Black and Indigenous youth.

“There are a lot of barriers (BIPOC youth) face,” he says. Access to mentors is one close to his heart. “I know for me growing up, if I didn't see somebody who looked like me or talked like me, sometimes it feels like, ‘Can I be successful?’” 

With initiatives such as RBC Future Launch, National Mentorship Month and Black History Month, Effah says the support he receives from the RBC team is unwavering. “It's great to have a company that's behind you, that's always supporting you, and to have that as a mandate. I think that is really cool. For my team to not only be there to support me, but to be pushing me to elevate these youth, is huge.” So how does a team with a diverse set of backgrounds rally around initiatives such as RBC Future Launch? Effah has simple advice for those who choose to be allies in the fight against systemic racism — treat people the way you want to be treated, like you would in grade school. “If you come to me with love, I am more likely to be open,” he says. We need less devil’s advocates and more advocates, he says, on issues such as racism, and he’s thankful for the support of his colleagues.

When he needs to escape, he returns to the track. It’s where the sprinter feels most comfortable. His success is quantitative — the fastest qualifying times do not discriminate against skin colour. Training aside, the work never stops at RBC Future Launch. He’s excited about the organization’s public commitment to economic growth and wealth creation in BIPOC communities, especially when the overall corporate landscape lacks diversity among senior executives. “They’re not just saying this behind closed doors — they're letting the world see it. And now they have targets that they have to hit, and I think that is a reflection of some of the great Diversity and Inclusion initiatives at RBC,” Effah says. Those financial targets include creating 25,000 employment opportunities and allotting 40% of summer jobs to BIPOC youth. “Meaningful pathways,” Effah says. “I’m proud of my organization for doing that.” For a future generation that will benefit from RBC Future Launch, the feeling will soon be mutual.


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Why Mentorship is Critical for the Success of BIPOC Youth and Young Professionals

During National Mentorship Month, we interviewed Sam Effah, RBC Olympian and Future Launch Ambassador about how he is inspiring change for a new generation through mentorship.

You should be judged for your character, not what you look like. That’s a lesson Sam Effah took to heart when he was younger. It’s why he wrote “Running While Black,” a searing first-person account of being a Black athlete, racially profiled, the everyday challenges he faces in the corporate world tackling unconscious biases and how he felt after the deaths of George Floyd and Philandro Castile. Writing his story solidified a desire to give back to a new generation of underrepresented youth in his role as a member of the Youth Strategy and Innovation team at RBC. Effah knows how important mentorship can be — when he hit the ground running beyond track and field as a public speaker over the last decade, clocking over 120 appearances across the country, the feedback to his lived experience as an athlete and entrepreneur was immediate.

“As a role model and mentor to a ton of kids,” Effah says, “it's important for them to know that I went through situations where I have been discriminated against.” His mission, to mentor others and inspire change for a new generation, is at the heart of who he is, and the heart of RBC’s initiative, RBC Future Launch.

The former Canadian track champion and RBC Olympian is intent on changing a lot of things, and it all starts with being front and center as a brand ambassador for RBC Future Launch, a 10-year, $500 million dollar commitment to empower young people  across Canada. More importantly, $50 million of that funding is earmarked to combat systemic racism and provide seed money for thousands of BIPOC youth to gain valuable work experience and access to mentorship opportunities. It’s another opportunity for Effah to reach even more underrepresented youth.

“The mentors I've had in my life are individuals who have not only supported me, advised me, and guided me, they've provided me with the right tools to be successful,” Effah says. “I look at a mentor as somebody who sees the mistakes they've had in their life, and with the individual that they're mentoring, guide you away from having those experiences. They streamline you along. They bring opportunities and essentially coach you to your successes. I wouldn't be where I am today without the mentors I've had.”

Effah, who grew up in Calgary and is now based in Toronto, turns to his own mentor, Mark Beckles, the VP of Social Impact and Innovation at RBC, for guidance. “He taught me it’s important to be more than just an athlete.” When Effah introduces himself, he adds the words and athlete to the end of the sentence because he is so much more than just a sprinter. Beckles imparted another piece of advice that Effah took to heart —make sure your passion shines through. “If you’re passionate about social impact, let that shine through in the programs that you work with.”

Being a mentor has given Effah clarity and purpose. He goes to work thinking, “Who can I help today?” Young people tell him how important it is to see someone that looks like them speak in front of an audience. Effah’s career path lets students know there’s a role model out there. Too often, mentorship and guidance come too late for BIPOC youth, Effah says. Buried in loans, students can lose sight of the bigger picture halfway through university, and some are drowning in debt. He says 94 percent of BIPOC youth aged 15-25 polled say they would like to obtain a bachelor’s degree but only 60% believe they can truly achieve that goal. When he read that statistic, Effah’s heart hurt. That was him once upon a time, doubting his own talents because he didn’t have visible role models to turn to. It’s why he’s so active in the community. “Hopefully somebody can see me and say, ‘Hey, if Sam's doing it, I can do it.’' By engaging with BIPOC high school students, Effah hopes to expand their consciousness. It’s not simply about obtaining a university degree, Effah says. There are plenty of skilled trades that pay well. Take carpentry, he says. “I want to be able to put every opportunity on the line and say, ‘Hey, this is something that you can really do well at.’ These are skills that nobody can take from you.” Students are surprised to hear how lucrative carpentry can be, and Effah urges them to think even bigger, like running their own business with these skills. 

RBC Future Launch is a critical step in delivering results and action to underrepresented communities, and Effah plans on being part of the change for the long haul. When he’s not training for the Olympics in the 100m dash, Effah is out there on the speaking circuit, trying to inspire others to pursue their goals. He’s using his platform as a former RBC Olympian and former Amazing Race contestant to inspire young athletes. And he’s helping early professional BIPOC youth grow their networks and obtain tangible work experience as part of RBC Future Launch’s financial pledge. The bank recently partnered with the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN), committing $4.5 million to develop over 1000 early-career Black professionals in the tech sector and fund the CULTIVATE mentorship program, which will pair 350 youth with executives for early career coaching. Additionally, Effah says, there are several scholarship funds for Black and Indigenous youth.

“There are a lot of barriers (BIPOC youth) face,” he says. Access to mentors is one close to his heart. “I know for me growing up, if I didn't see somebody who looked like me or talked like me, sometimes it feels like, ‘Can I be successful?’” 

With initiatives such as RBC Future Launch, National Mentorship Month and Black History Month, Effah says the support he receives from the RBC team is unwavering. “It's great to have a company that's behind you, that's always supporting you, and to have that as a mandate. I think that is really cool. For my team to not only be there to support me, but to be pushing me to elevate these youth, is huge.” So how does a team with a diverse set of backgrounds rally around initiatives such as RBC Future Launch? Effah has simple advice for those who choose to be allies in the fight against systemic racism — treat people the way you want to be treated, like you would in grade school. “If you come to me with love, I am more likely to be open,” he says. We need less devil’s advocates and more advocates, he says, on issues such as racism, and he’s thankful for the support of his colleagues.

When he needs to escape, he returns to the track. It’s where the sprinter feels most comfortable. His success is quantitative — the fastest qualifying times do not discriminate against skin colour. Training aside, the work never stops at RBC Future Launch. He’s excited about the organization’s public commitment to economic growth and wealth creation in BIPOC communities, especially when the overall corporate landscape lacks diversity among senior executives. “They’re not just saying this behind closed doors — they're letting the world see it. And now they have targets that they have to hit, and I think that is a reflection of some of the great Diversity and Inclusion initiatives at RBC,” Effah says. Those financial targets include creating 25,000 employment opportunities and allotting 40% of summer jobs to BIPOC youth. “Meaningful pathways,” Effah says. “I’m proud of my organization for doing that.” For a future generation that will benefit from RBC Future Launch, the feeling will soon be mutual.


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