McBride embracing teammate Marco Arop

McBride Youth United Association builds foundation of mentorship with help of OLY Canada Legacy Grant

Two-time Olympian Brandon McBride understands the power of mentorship.

As a decorated 800m runner, he knows that having the support of a more experienced athlete or coach means a lot. And as someone who has experienced racism and discrimination within and outside of organized sport, he also understands the power of a mentor that can directly relate to one’s lived experience.

READ: Brandon McBride: Keeping His Head on a Swivel

“Growing up, I was fortunate to have incredible mentors and coaches who profoundly influenced my life and led me to be a two-time Olympian. Their guidance was instrumental in my development not just as an athlete, but as a person,” he says. “I remember competing in championships in shoes and attire that were donated to me. Those acts of kindness and support were pivotal and something I want to pay forward.”

McBride in race middle of the pack on the outside at Rio 2016 Games
Canada’s Brandon McBride competes in the men’s 800m semifinal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

In 2020, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19-related isolation, McBride had a dream of starting a non-profit focused on directly benefiting Black and minority youth. Now, in 2024, the McBride Youth United Association (MYUA) is doing exactly that.

“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I did a giveaway where I assisted families in need during that time. That sparked the realization that this could evolve into something greater,” McBride says.

Co-founded with his partner, Yesmina Captan, the MYUA’s mission statement is to “alleviate poverty and reassert a sense of hope in Windsor-Essex County youth.” The organization in southwestern Ontario operates a mentorship program, an after school program, as well as a summer camp.

“I’ve seen young athletes in my community slip through the cracks due to the lack of strong mentorship and support. Young athletes in Canada have a lot of potential. It’s my belief that by providing the upcoming generation with the same guidance, support, and mentorship I received, we can uplift not only individual lives, but also strengthen the fabric of the sport community,” McBride says.

Captan and McBride faced many of the challenges endemic to start-ups. At the beginning, McBride was personally financing the organization, which was an unsustainable model. Starting out with just the two of them running the ship, Captan and McBride juggled responsibilities while trying to identify individuals and organizations to bring on board.

All of that work has been worth it to see the benefits that the programming has brought not only to the youth mentees, but also the participating mentors.

“The program has such a positive impact on both the mentors and mentees. Witnessing the transformation of these young athletes as they gain confidence, skills, and a clearer sense of direction is rewarding,” McBride says. “It reaffirms the importance of the work being done and the value that mentorship holds to shaping lives.”

Most of the mentors are fellow Olympians or professional athletes drawn from McBride’s personal network, who share his desire to use their own experiences to help guide others.

The mentorship program takes place over the course of eight weeks, with mentors and mentees meeting for at least an hour each week. Each session is dedicated to a topic specifically chosen to help target the mentee’s individual development. Some examples may include learning how to develop S.M.A.R.T goals, exploring career planning, or discussing strategies to promote mental health. Building on the latter, the programme also hosts a mental health workshop that specializes in addressing stress and anxiety within sports and academics.

“After each meeting, mentees are required to write a journal entry. This entry details the conversation of the day, the insights they’ve gained, and the goals for the following week,” McBride explains. “This ensures that there is a record of progress and a clear path forward for each participant.”

It’s easy to see how such processes help develop goal-setting, self-reflection, and time-management skills. MYUA mentees have gone on to win Ontario high school titles, earn scholarships from NCAA schools, improve their academic standings, and most importantly, increase their self-belief and confidence in their ability to face challenges.

The MYUA program initially launched with 10 athletes and mentors, building to 16 athletes and 13 mentors on the second round of intake. Since receiving an OLY Canada Legacy Grant from the Canadian Olympic Committee, the MYUA is increasing the number of slots available for mentees, as well as extending the program from eight to 12 weeks to enhance development. McBride hopes to see the program continue to grow and establish a lasting legacy of support within the community.

The OLY Canada Legacy Grant program was designed to advance Olympism by providing financial assistance to community initiatives led by Team Canada Legacy Olympians.

READ: 15 Olympian-led community projects to receive OLY Canada Legacy Grants

As for McBride, he says that 2024 will see his trajectory as an elite athlete take a parallel path to his professional growth.

“While the rigor and discipline of sports continue to be part of who I am, I’m channeling the same dedication and strategic mindset into my career in finance and my non-profit organization,” McBride says. “This year might mark a period of transition where the skills and experiences from my athletic journey become assets in my professional life.”

Which is exactly what he hopes MYUA mentees might be able to say in a few decades’ time.