Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Lasting Legacies: The Effects of Natural Mentors in the Lives of At-Risk African-American Male Adolescents

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick Pauken


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand how natural mentoring helps at-risk African-American male adolescents avoid high-risk behaviors. Natural mentors are people with whom mentees have natural relationships outside of their immediate family, such as community members, teachers, ministers, extended family members and coaches. The participants were two current and two former at-risk African-American male adolescents who were either currently living in, or formerly lived in, high-risk environments. Participants had experience with a natural mentor-mentee relationship and were interested in talking about their experience. The present study’s mentoring relationships consisted of three male-to-male relationships and one male-to-female relationship. Several characteristics of natural mentoring impacted the mentees in this study. Mentees related examples of mentors’ caring behavior, understanding, comfortable conversations, unconditional support, and commitment to the relationship. When natural mentors display these characteristics in relationships with at-risk African-American male adolescents, the mentees voluntarily assist in changing their attitudes and behaviors and enhance their chances of living more meaningful and productive lives. Concept of a Natural Mentor and Effects of Natural Mentoring relationships were the two themes that emerged from the interviews of participants. The Concept of a Natural Mentor revealed that natural mentors are people who naturally assist in others’ times of need. The concept of being a natural mentor is wrapped up in commitment and selflessness. Natural mentors’ commitment focuses on their relationships with at-risk African-American male adolescents, their willingness to allow mentees to make mistakes without judging them, and the flexibility given to mentees to make their own decisions. The second theme to emerge was the Effects of Natural Mentoring relationships. Natural mentoring relationships allow mentees to adapt concepts and ideals that allow them to successfully mature into productive adults. Natural mentoring builds resiliency in mentees and helps them avoid at-risk behavior and overcome the fear of failure. Mentees who are successful have natural mentors in their lives that help them with emotional support and encourage them to learn adult behaviors and responsibilities while developing social skills. Among the leadership lessons taught and learned were servant-leadership, character building, meaning making, and the transferability of natural mentoring to formal mentoring relationships. More research is encouraged on the nature of caring relationships and the ethic of care among men, the continuity of natural mentoring relationships across generations, and resiliency and the fear of failure among at-risk adolescents.