Celebrating our 2021 Mentors of the Year

This month, Urban Alliance celebrated the Class of 2021, their mentors, and our community partners with end-of-year ceremonies in all our regions: Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and Greater DC.

Mentors play a vital role in our signature High School Internship Program, as they work closely with our students to encourage and support their professional development. This year would not have been possible without our mentors’ tireless efforts to provide the best hybrid and virtual work experience to our interns – even during a pandemic. Each year we honor those mentors who have gone the extra mile to ensure a special experience for their interns – and became family along the way. 

Here are the 2021 Urban Alliance Mentors of the Year:

Baltimore: Steve Sneed, Mentoring Matters

Going into his internship, Mentoring Mentors intern Malichi Lovelist was excited about what was to come as his placement aligned with his passions. After meeting regularly with his mentor, Steve Sneed, the duo became inseparable and his internship felt like a perfect match. “My mentor has gone above and beyond what I would expect,” said Malichi.

Even though this program year was Steve’s first time serving as a mentor, his enthusiasm for Malichi’s progress never wavered. “Urban Alliance is a great place for all you guys … I just try to do everything I possible can for Malichi.” 

Working with Steve during this historic year, Malichi treasures this experience: “He has been an all-around supporter … I not only gained a mentor for a year but a mentor for years to come.


Ready to ensure her mentees had ample funding for college, Quicken Loans mentor Archana Archarya jumped at the first opportunity she could to inquire about a scholarship with Urban Alliance Detroit staff. “That commitment from that mentor just shows how dedicated they were … and spoke volumes.” said program director Charlene Donelson.  

As part of his commitment to diversity and student success, Honoree Dr. Truman Hudson of Wayne State University worked with his Urban Alliance interns to ensure they were educated about the Detroit Promise program that provides Pell-eligible Detroit residents with a tuition-free pathway to higher education. Margrit Allen, Executive Director of Detroit, recalls Truman’s words: “I want to make sure all of them have their Detroit college promise, I want to make sure their tuition is covered in full; I want to make sure any issue they have, I’ll be their college ambassador.” 

Chicago: Johnathan Hill, Relativity

Eager to make a great first impression during his internship at Relativity, Urban Alliance Chicago’s Hashim Abu-Shanab would often forego breaks to work on projects. Taking note of Hashim’s perseverance, his mentor at Relativity, Community Engagement Lead Johnathan Hill, offered some advice as he was once in Hashim’s shoes as an Urban Alliance intern in Washington, DC. “He taught me to take a step back and slow down. If I slowed down, I could really focus on what I am doing and how I am learning,” said Hashim. From that moment on, their relationship blossomed and Johnathan’s wisdom and encouragement made all the difference for the rest of Hashim’s internship.

As Hashim continued to learn from Johnathan, Johnathan also began to learn from Hashim. “You often forget that you used to be that young person,” said in his address to Hashim. “You made me a better professional myself,” remarked Johnathan to Hashim. In a beautiful moment that speaks volumes about the two-way power of mentorship, Johnathan tearfully accepted the Mentor of the Year award from UA Chicago and Hashim, and reflected his full-circle journey from intern to mentor.

Greater DC: Darius Epps, National Museum of African American History and Culture

For many students, adjusting to virtual courses during the pandemic is tough, and deciding to participate in a virtual internship can be terrifying. However, Greater DC interns Mia Heyward and Samira Datham soon found themselves well cared-for by their mentor, Darius Epps, the Fellowship and Intern Program Coordinator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Darius worked to craft a memorable internship experience for his cohort. “Mr. Epps goes above and beyond to prepare his interns for success, whether it’s hosting resume workshops, helping conduct informational interviews, developing our hard and soft skills…he treats us like professionals,” said Mia.

Naturally reserved, Samira would hesitate to lead group discussions, nonetheless, with Darius’ help, her confidence grew, “With Mr. Epps’ help I began to come out of my shell and develop strong communication, public speaking, and teamwork skills.” recalled Samira. “All of the skills and knowledge that I have learned from Mr. Epps have helped me become more professional and I will use what I learned here in future jobs.”   


Greater DC (Property Management Pathway): Daykia Moore, Gates Hudson

Initially unsure of pursuing a career path in leasing, Urban Alliance intern Tracey Montilus found herself inspired by her mentor at Gates Hudson, Daykia Moore. An inaugural Property Management Pathway mentor, Daykia set the tone for all future mentors. While she spent the past few months teaching Tracey the ins and outs of managing a residential real estate property, it was Daykia’s kind spirit and dedication that drew Tracey in. She now wants to purse a career in leasing to pay her way through college.

“[Daykia] is truly a reflection of who I hope to be one day,” said Tracey. “She taught me so much about customer service and how to communicate professionally. I now feel like I can handle any situation that comes my way. Daykia has helped me grow into a strong professional, just like her.”  


Greater DC (Northern Virginia): Kiona Gaines, National District Attorneys Association

Although Urban Alliance intern Zona Khan always had an interest in International Law, she was apprehensive about her first day at the National District Attorneys Association, but her mentor Kiona Gaines shined as a beacon of hope and motivation. “Kiona unknowingly gave me such comfort,” said Zona. “She made sure that I was never burned out by work, in fact she made sure I enjoyed the projects I was given to do.” 

Serving as the Association’s Assistant Direct of Membership and Marketing, Kiona spearheads a group of interns each semester, yet her careful consideration is what helped deepened Zona’s appreciation and understanding of the legal system.  “She not only guided me to the right path at work, but also encouraged me to let things fall into place. Whether I was feeling too shy to ask questions, or discussing college goals with her, she was always 100% honest and 300% genuine,” she said. “I want to thank Kiona, from the bottom of my heart for being such a kind, honest, and considerate mentor.”


Greater DC (Montgomery County): Donnea McLinton, Precision Medicine Group

Jenkins Darbney was nervous to begin his internship with Precision Medical Group, but his mentor Donnea McLinton quickly helped him forget about his troubles. “I was very nervous and lacked a lot of experience, but from the way Ms. Donnea talked to me and not at me, she made me feel ready to learn and improve,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins now leaves his internship with a toolbox brimming with skills and information, thanks to Donnea’s assistance.“Ms. Donnea helped me to improve my emails and communication and showed me how to properly introduce myself. She knew just the right assignment to give me to better my soft skills and build my resume.” Jenkins was also encouraged by Donnea to cast a broad net and network inside the company to strengthen his knowledge and learn the many responsibilities within Precision Medical Group.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Ms. Donnea, because everything she did helped me to improve myself as a person and as a professional,” said Jenkins.