Black History Month: Conversations about Mentorship with Local Community Leaders

For Black History Month, Cornerstones of Care asked several Black community leaders in child advocacy to reflect on the idea of mentorship and to share about the role of important individuals in their development as a leader.

Our next conversation is with Juanice Williams.

Juanice Williams, MSW, is an Assistant Instructor of Social Work at the University of Central Missouri. In her role, Juanice provides Mental Health First Aid training to students every year. She was previously a Family School Liaison at Truman High School in Independence, MO, where she developed and supported their Teen Parenting Program and worked with high school students.  

Is mentorship particularly important for young people of color? If so, how?

Mentorship is extremely important for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). BIPOC are already at a disadvantage as they come up in the world, regardless of whether they are in a two-parent household in the suburbs or are without parents and struggling to make ends meet.

When the world sees a person of color, there are a set of assumptions that they might have. Often young people don’t know what to do about these assumptions or how to handle microaggressions that may be directed at them. Mentors can help them make sense of all the potential negative things directed at them. 


In your personal history, do you have a mentor who had an impact on your life and helped shape you as a leader?

I have had many mentors in my lifetime. I didn’t even realize that many of them were providing mentorship until I was a professional adult.

When I was in college, one of my professors, Jenise Comer, invested in me and provided a ton of guidance to shape me into a professional social worker. Her words still stick with me when I am afraid to try something new: “They don’t know what you don’t know.”

To me, this means that the public is usually not even aware when I mess up or do something out of order. In my early career days, these words gave me comfort.


Is there a historical leader who inspired you growing up or shaped your understanding of society and your role in it?

I am from Oklahoma, and a leader there was Clara Luper. She was my 10th-grade American government teacher and a pioneer in the civil rights movement. She made sure that we understood how government works and gave us reasons to question things that don’t make sense. She is probably the first person to plant the seed of how to think critically and how to speak up and speak out!

When we spoke in class, if we said “uhh…” she would say: “Start over – I don’t know what ‘uhh’ means!” It sounds harsh, but delivering information in a clear and concise way has not been a problem for me since then.


As a local leader in child advocacy, what future change do you hope to see that will create more opportunities for black children to assume leadership roles?

I would like to see more opportunities for black children to see what a future can look like for them outside of their current experiences. Having access to leadership opportunities can be critical to future endeavors. Children need more opportunities to meet professional leaders in their community and other communities – and more opportunities to hear professional discussions to know that it’s okay to dream bigger and think differently than the people in your current circle. 


Are there any personal or organizational celebrations of Black History Month in your community that you’d like to share?

On Monday, February 27, at 7:00 p.m., the University of Central Missouri will present the program, “Rev. Dr. William Barber II, We are Called to Be a Movement.” This free public presentation sponsored by UCM’s Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity is open to all.


And we’d like you to answer the unasked question. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about the importance of Black History Month and what it means to you?

In this climate, Black History Month has become more significant because there is such a fight to erase me and my people’s true history. I often wear shirts about empowering black women or bringing awareness to black people’s mental health. My goal is to remind people that we are human and we matter as whole vessels, not broken pieces. 

Looking for more? Check out our 2023 Black History Month Conversations with Anthony J. Mondaine, Sr., pastor and Independence school district’s first Black school board member, and Montel Evans, principal at Thomas Hart Benton Elementary in the Independence School District.