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Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO says 30K children on waitlist, mentors needed

Artis Stevens is the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. His title was announced back in November 2020.

ATLANTA — A Brunswick, Georgia man went from almost being a preacher to being the first Black CEO of the nation’s largest mentoring program.

Artis Stevens is the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. His title was announced back in November 2020. It's not something he always thought he would do.

His village included strong men from his family.

"My dad was a preacher. My granddad was a preacher. And my dad, I remember asking them one day did I need to be a preacher like him," he explained. "And I always remember him saying to me that everyone has their ministry in this world, you have to find yours.”

Finding the mission meant listening. Things changed when he heard one name.

"It was the name of Ahmaud Arbery," he said. "Because I was from Brunswick, Georgia."

"What happened to Mr. Arbery was something that we've all experienced, and particularly being an African American man, we know the experiences of challenge and inequities and facing some of those pressures. And it made me think, 'was I doing enough?'”

Being a part of the community helps. Stevens said when access and opportunities are created, doors open -- particularly for the youth.

"When you create the idea of a positive relationship between the positive adult and the young person, it creates a door and a pathway for young people to see themselves in roles, to see themselves in terms of taking steps and leaps to have that nudge and the positive resilience that they need to achieve their potential in life,” he added.

He may not be a preacher, but he’s still delivering a message. Kids with mentors have higher self-esteem, increased graduation rates, and lower chances of drug and alcohol addiction.

Credit: BBBS
Artis Stevens

But, Big Brother Big Sisters of America needs more mentors -- and really, more men.

“Right now, nationally, we got 30,000 young people that are on our waiting list, 30,000. And of that 30,000, most of those kids are boys," Stevens said. 

Some of them might have never seen what's beyond their own neighborhoods or experiences.

For perspective, 71%  of the young people the organization serves come from communities of color. About 60%  have one parent and 55% live in poverty. Also, 25% have a parent either on parole or in prison.

"Now, in no way do those numbers define who they are. In many cases, it makes them even more resilient," he said.

However, Stevens said they need examples and access to help better themselves. 

"They need people that help point them in the direction and sometimes they give them the nudge to say, 'you can do this, and I'm here to support you in doing so,” Stevens said. 

It's the same thing his dad did for him.

Credit: Artis Stevens
Artis Stevens and his father

“My dad passed away unexpectedly, my first week of the job. And, and I'll always remember what he told me a couple of days before," Stevens said. "He said, 'one, I'm proud of you.' And he said, 'two, you are doing just as much of a ministry have I ever done, right?'"

September is Big Brothers Big Sisters Month. To get information on how to apply to become a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sister of America, visit the organization's website. You can also get information about BBBS in metro Atlanta here.