Kulula Mentoring Program

What if academic achievement and leadership could be improved by enhancing the identity and esteem of children of color?

Photo of Amina Simmons
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

The Challenging Racism and Empowering Communities through Ethnocultural Research (CRECER) Team works with communities to develop and implement programs that are community-centered. After hosting a Day of Dialogue and creating an Adolescent Advisory Board with youth from historically Black communities in Miami-Dade county, it became clear that a program aimed at building the identity of young Black folks was central to their development and success academically, socially, and interpersonally.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)
  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Coral Gables

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Miami, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Through the Adolescent Advisory Board and Day of Dialogue, youth of color shared their desire for a mentoring program that centered around building academic achievement and leadership skills through knowledge of their racial and ethnic identity. As a result, the CRECER Team and the Adolescent Advisory Board developed the Kulula Mentoring Program; an evidence-based program for enhancing the ethnic identity and socialization skills of Black youth.

Kulula, a Swahili word meaning to "excel" or "achieve," is a culturally enriched mentoring program for elementary and middle school students in the Greater Miami-Dade area. Overall, Kulula seeks to increase self-efficacy, leadership skills, and community involvement, improve decision-making, coping, and problem-solving, increase connection to school and academic performance, and increase awareness of and pride in participants' African heritage.

Using an Afrocentric curriculum-based approach (including mentors of African descent) in a group setting, Kulula engages youth in activities and journaling exercises emphasizing relational interaction. The program has four modules that address various themes including: relationships, family history/ancestry, stereotypes, self-esteem, conflict resolution, leadership/role models, career aspirations and planning for the future. Volunteers support academic and social development, as well as encourage positive relationship building and model positive behaviors.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The civic engagement project; where mentees identify an issue in the community that they would like to see changed, and suggest ways in which to address it. This school year the mentees decided to address the issues of “Homeless in their Community.” Kulula’s curriculum hopes to use this project as a way to encourage youth to engage in two modes of change, a plan of immediate action, and a more sustainable plan of action presented to community officials and stakeholders. This year the youth organized a canned food drive to take place during their End of the Year celebration. Their sustainable plan included approaching a city official and the youth wrote letters to Commissioner Ken Russell, expressing their concerns and potential solutions

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Qualitatively, the impact of the civic engagement project is what stands out most clearly from the 2015-2016 academic year. The youth collected more than 7 boxes and multiple bags of canned food to be donated to a local church that provides for the homeless in their community. Furthermore, Commissioner Ken Russell surprised the students by attending their celebration, bringing his canned goods donations and their letters. The commissioner shared with the students his story of growing up in the community and expressed gratitude for their commitment to an issue that is also close to his heart a major part of his vision for change. This response by the local community and broader city officials shows the students that they have the ability to make an impact both on small and large scales.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The program is currently supported in part by the University of Miami, the community partners organizations, and some grant funding. Such a mixture of funding ensure that the program is implemented in the communities and scale up to reach larger number of kids and parents if large amount of funding is secured.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are several organizations in the Miami area focusing on youth development and addressing the needs of ethnically diverse youths in various communities. However, few focused on the development of the ethnic identity of the kids. As such, we re partnering with organizations, like Urgent Inc. a local non-profit aimed at “empowering young minds to transform their communities,” to integrate the elements of Kulula into their programs (YES! Camp) allowing for a more holistic and comprehensive approach.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Kulula is a community-based research project that seeks to amplify the voices of youth of color by building their knowledge of their racial/ethnic identity and history. The program hopes to enhance their academic achievement, build leadership and socialization skills, and encourages youth to be agents of change within their community. Postsecondary students are also provided with opportunities to engage as change agents, serving as mentors, enhancing their own racial/ethnic identity and ability to engage in didactic dialogues about systems of change and community-centered solutions.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth
  • Other

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Dr. Guerda Nicolas

Program Design Clarity

Our main beneficiary is a historically Bahamian community called, “The West Grove.” Over time the demographics of the community have shifted to include more Latino/a members and due to gentrification of the surrounding areas, many of the families have been displaced to communities further south (e.g. Cutler Bay, Homestead, etc.). The Kulula program works specifically with youth in the West Grove community. The program meets once per week for one hour and both graduate and undergraduate students from surrounding institutions participate as mentors.

Community Leadership

The Kulula project has an assessment component of pre- and post- testing. Both youth and mentors are given a variety of including measures of social connectedness, ethnic/racial identity salience, and many others. During post-testing, brief informal interviews are conducted with all participants to solicit feedback about improvements for next year. Leaders in the community center are also consulted for feedback during future partnership years.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Our vision is a collaborative and dynamic one that consists of two goals: increase academic achievement and facilitate the creation of sustainable change. Both of these goals are actualized by the enhancement of participant’s racial/ethnic identity. Our mentoring model encourages students to use their knowledge and leadership skills to reengage with and refuel their communities, helping future generations and paying homage to their ancestors.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Kulula seeks to empower the youth and by extension their families to take ownership over their community. The youth participate in a Civic Engagement project during Kulula and that project serves as the foundation for the youth to believe that their voices matter and can impact their community. Last year, youth tackled homelessness in their community and received the support of a local councilman, Ken Russell.

Leadership Story

Our commitment to action is a commitment to community partnership. Our lab views social change as something that should benefit communities in the ways they see fit and necessary. Who else better knows the needs of a community than it’s members? Moving into our 7th year of Kulula in the Fall of 2016, we will incorporate feedback from community partners, for example more interactive activities and games for the youth. This framework encourages participants to take make an investment in their own learning and allows them to get the most out of the program.

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Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

The two distinct activities mentioned in the proposal were: 1) the Youth Advisory Council and (2) Day of Dialogue. These activities, while commendable, are pretty common in most youth mentoring agencies. I would suggest that the author include more anecdotes about the successes of the kids and mentors in the program.

Photo of Amina Simmons

Thanks for the feedback Christy!  This past year we had MANY victories in Kulula.  Our mentors and mentees successfully moved through the curriculum at a pace comparable to the different developmental levels (we serve kiddos from grades K-8).  

Their major project, the Civic Engagement Project, was also a huge success.  The mentees wrote letters to Commissioner Ken Russell about their concerns of homelessness in their community.  This helps build their writing and literacy skills and after rounds of revisions with their mentors we saw great improvement in the children's abilities to articulate their ideas clearly and creatively.  One group of older girls worked with their mentor to not only diagram the issues of homeless, but offered suggestions for sustainable solutions.  Additionally, the mentees invited Commissioner Russell to their End of Year Celebration, to speak with them and their parents further.  

The End of Year Celebration is a time to celebrate our accomplishments and reflect on the year.  We saw kiddos, who had been previously disengaged in after-school programming, grasp at the opportunity to help.  Our older youth made all the flyers for the celebration that were disseminated to their parents, other community partners, and community members.  They also organized a food drive and took the lead on running the ENTIRE celebration from set-up to clean up.  They even organized a performance for their parents and took the stage by storm.  We also had a surprise guest during dinner, Commissioner Russell attended their celebration.  He arrived with their letters in hand and thanked the mentors and mentees for sharing their concerns.  He later spoke with the children, learning more about them and sharing about himself as well as taking time to meet with the leaders of the Barnyard (the community center where Kulula is housed) about plans for revamping the space and addressing additional issues in the community.  

An additional piece of the Kulula program is a bi-directional leadership and academic achievement piece.  We believe that working with youth to build these skills helps our graduate and undergraduate mentors re-invigorate their own leadership and academic achievement.  Our mentors went on to do some amazing things this summer including: a medical program for men of color at Howard University, a Fulbright Scholar who spent the summer in Europe, and a mentor who is now moving on to a PhD program in Applied Social and Community Psychology.  

Overall, we had a wonderful year and are excited to move forward with Kulula in the Fall of 2016. 

Thank you again for the feedback. :) 

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

Sounds amazing!  I know it was hard to get all these great projects into the boxes with the limited character count. Good luck!