Building Trust Through Shared Purpose and Vulnerability

by | Jan 17, 2024 | Building Our Model, Mentorship

In my journey into stepping into my power, I came across 

many roads and one I did not want to do is work with white women. 


My whole life has been shaped by my bay area community members 

mentoring me. I am that seed that slipped through the cracks 

and throughout the years my community has watered me 

and nurtured me into who I am today and who I grow to be. 


How do I go about feeling safe and authentic to myself with a woman 

whose identity represents people who historically and to this day perpetuate 

genocide on the people of Turtle Island?                                                                                                                              


How can I ever create an authentic mentorship relationship with a young woman whose life has unfolded so differently from mine? My existence in whiteness, privilege is a representation of her trauma, her oppression. Can we build trust out of that poisoned foundation?


If I am committed to a power shift, a true partnership to tear down systems of dehumanization and subjugation, trust is the first step. How can we build a space of connection where we can be our authentic selves, honestly share our experiences and our differences, find common ground, open ourselves to learning?


How….I could never. However we must be fluid and adapt and address the needs of our commitments to our communities 

 But through my experience at

I Am Why I came to know people for who they are. 

Learning, unlearning, relearning as I experience and evolve. 



How do we embody and practice being in harmony 

with each other, allowing each other to learn? How do we 

move from here? How do we build a mentoring relationship 

between two different people? How do we co-create a world 

where we acknowledge trauma, acknowledge privilege, 

acknowledge that it takes all of us to create a safe, just world 

we want our children to inherit? How do we cultivate a mentoring 

relationship that feels whole, and allows for the growth of both? 


So much of traditional mentorship is rooted in presumption…who has knowledge, who needs knowledge…who has power, who lacks power…who has something to give, who needs to take. 


But we both need to come to the mentorship relationship ready to be vulnerable and open to learning. It’s not about one person having an answer and sharing it with the other person. It’s about sharing perspective, experience, history, knowledge that you can then bring back into your life outside of the mentorship. It’s about being open to learning, letting go so you can gain something new.


Most would think of mentorship as a top down approach. 

There is a “mentor” who is mentoring the “mentee.” Most 

mentorship relationships are structured in that way. In 

I Am Why, though, we practice reciprocal mentorship relationships: 

Each one, teach one. We are the experts in our stories and 

lived experiences, and same for the other person. We practice 

adaptive leadership where we can each become the student and the teacher.


It’s important to be very upfront and clear-eyed about how we are trying to do things differently, how important it is for us to question the power dynamics of typical mentorship relationships. Otherwise we could just float on the surface and never really dig into how our differences shape us and our work, and how our commonalities of humanity and purpose can connect us in our work. We would remain defined, separated by our identities.


How do we nourish someone who has been traumatized 

by many institutions, when they represent them? How do 

we build trust so we have a solid foundation for the relationship 

we will be cultivating? 


Time. Taking the time to feel like we can build authentic relationships.


Our mentorship relationship grew out of time, out of space for deep conversations about work and life, out of knowing we were building a long-term mentorship through regular connection.


Moving through your trauma, by being honest and vulnerable 

with firm boundaries, allows trust to be built. That can be 

challenging, which is why it is important to cultivate a safe 

and brave mentorship environment. Allowing yourself to 

recognize your privileges and not center your biases. Moving 

through the understanding that learning, unlearning and relearning 

is a reciprocal experience that is necessary for there to be trust 

and compassion. And with that you can still be assertive, 

practicing discernment, knowing how to approach and when. 


Mentorship in I Am Why is not about separating the personal and professional—the personal informs the professional. We need to ask what that means, how does it play out in the workplace, how does that change the way we all teach and learn, how should it change our goals and expectations?


Moving through our biases, moving through our fear and being 

courageous, practicing authenticity and patience to promote authentic change. 

Whether it’s trauma, privilege, ignorance, shame—the intention 

to move away from a state of fear will allow for a healing mentorship 



If we hope to create a power shift, we need these kind of lasting mentorship spaces that are intergenerational, interracial, and intercultural. We need to create space for a gradual breaking down of deeply entrenched norms and then a building up of something new that’s rooted in mutual respect, empathy, collective knowledge…instead of just standing side-by-side in the work, we rely on one another, support one another, encourage one another. We are true partners, we are friends. 


– Alondra Aragon, I Am Why Program Manager; Annie Balck, I Am Why Advisor & Research Consultant

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