Engaging Men of Color as Mentors

with Artis Stevens of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the country’s oldest mentoring organization, reports a shortage of male volunteers of color.

Artis Stevens, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss how his organization is working to engage men of color as mentors.

Posted on:

July 02, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is recognized as the country's oldest mentoring organization, helping children realize their potential and build their futures. But with 30,000-plus kids on the waiting list, the organization wants to do more. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Big Brothers Big Sisters reports a shortage in male volunteers from communities representing Black, indigenous, and people of color, and it's working to engage these men to get involved. Joining me to talk about all of this is Artis Stevens. He is the president and the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. And Artis, thanks for joining us.

Stevens: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: So, there are over 30,000 children on your waiting list -- Littles, as I know you like to refer to them. Who are some of these kids?

Stevens: So, our young people... We serve young people all across the country. The young people we serve, 71% come from the BIPOC community, Black, indigenous, people of color. We have another 55% of the young people that we serve are from single-family households. 60% of the young people we serve live in poverty, and then as well as 25% of the youth that we serve have a parent that's incarcerated or in the parole system. Now, in no way does that judge or define who they are. But we also know that there is an environment and circumstances that they too often face, and we know they have the inherent potential. In many cases, they need the opportunity, the access. And that's where positive relationships that Big Brothers Big Sisters and mentoring organizations provide.

Anderson: And those mentors who provide that sort of positive experience and forward-looking view into life are extremely important. And I know that you're lacking when it comes to men, when it comes to men of color. So, what are you doing to encourage them to volunteer and say, "You know what, I'm going to lend some of my time to this good cause"?

Stevens: Well, we have a history of building a really strong mentoring program that engaged people of all backgrounds and all experiences. But we also know just how important it is to be able to engage men. That 30,000 that you mentioned, most of those young people are boys of color. And what we understand in terms of being able to build the types of relationships is that we have to attract men by creating the space and environment that they want to belong to. So a lot of the work that we're doing is training of our staff. So, helping them to understand how they engage into communities, how to undergo cultural humility, and understanding a lot of the background experiences. It also means we have to hire. We have to hire people that can understand the communities that we serve. So we're undergoing a lot of work in terms of our process of how we hire and bring, of course, recruitment, education, working with partnerships and community partnerships. So, we are launching relationships with Black fraternities, sororities, other social justice organizations so that we're engaging effectively in the communities that we want to serve because we know it takes a village to raise a child and it takes every single mentor being part of that village to ensure that we're growing and developing young people in the right way.

Anderson: And, you know, to that point, you're not a volunteer of Big Brothers Big Sisters -- you are the president, you are the CEO. But at the same time, you are an example. You're the first Black man to lead the organization in its over-100-year existence. How important is that role right now, especially when you're trying to encourage people who look like you to volunteer in addition to the climate we're living in, where diversity is such an important topic these days?

Stevens: Yeah, it's a great question. I'm in this role today because of my dad, because I had a mentor in my life, someone who helped me to see what the opportunities were, because of other Black men who I saw in roles and positions of leadership that showed me that I could achieve, that I could get exposed to these types of things, and that no matter what I faced, I had the opportunity if I only had the belief and the intention to do so. This is what this role means. I know that I got here because I'm standing on the giant -- the shoulders of giants. I know that this opportunity is going to show millions of more kids that they have the same opportunity not only to reach what I've just done, but to exceed it. So, I think that in this sense, but also in other senses of what we see across our country, representation matters, being able to see people in positions that look like you, that talk like you, that have the same type of background and cultural experiences as you. And that's what I hope this represents for millions of kids who are seeing this appointment.

Anderson: And, you know, it also represents the path to success, and I know that you guys have done some internal measurements about the programs, how they work. What did you learn when it comes to, you know, the Littles' engagement with law enforcement down the road or their ability to do well in school?

Stevens: We learned, quite simply, the program works. Our model works, and it works because of community development. Here's what we see. We see that the idea of academic success, that our young people are much more likely to succeed in school and to stay on the path to graduate and to make positive post-secondary decisions upon graduation. We also know risky behaviors decrease with our young people. So our young people are much more -- three times less likely to participate or get engaged into criminal activity, have engagements with law enforcement, because of those types of things. But I'll tell you one thing that's really critically important about the work that we do here, is that we have a tendency in our organization to see that once our young people are involved as a Big, which we call -- a Little, excuse me -- in the program, they typically come back as a Big, meaning giving back, giving back to their community. So we're doing more programs where young people can actually peer-to-peer mentor other young people because we think civic engagement and the idea of service and giving back to your community and particularly other young people is critically important for the work that we do.

Anderson: Paying it forward. And, Artis, if people want to find out more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, where can they go? What's the website?

Stevens: They can go to bbbs.org. And if you go to that website, you can find the local agency. There are 236 all across the country, serving 5,000 communities, somewhere near you. And you can check them out to volunteer. Or if you feel like you want to invest and donate to support the organization to do the amazing work that it does, please feel free to support us in that way as well. So, we look forward to hopefully having more people to join our community.

Anderson: Artis Stevens, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, thank you for being here.

Stevens: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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