TAMPA — The waiting list for mentors is long at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. There are about 650 mentees, or "littles," waiting to be matched with mentors, or "bigs."
And it's an even longer wait for African-American males. That's because they account for 60 percent of the people looking for mentors, and only 20 percent of the volunteers are black.
While mentors and mentees do not have to be the same race, the organization tries to match pairs with similar backgrounds.
"The matching provides an opportunity for them to see somebody who looks like them," said Teri Simpson, senior vice president of programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. "Someone who has been successful, somebody who has made it."
The organization conducts recruitment efforts throughout the year to find minority mentors. On Wednesday, it will get a helping hand from one of the nation's most popular urban radio personalities —nationally syndicated host Michael Baisden will visit Tampa through his One Million Mentors Campaign and Save Our Kids tour.
Through his radio show, Baisden will encourage people — specifically African-American men — to sign up as mentors with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.
This year's Big Brother of the Year Award recipient is Neil Armstrong, an African-American retired Verizon corporate employee. Armstrong, 58, mentors three "littles."
"The best thing out of it is seeing that smile and actually knowing I'm making a difference," Armstrong said.
That's exactly what happened when his first "little" — Jamaine, a 12-year-old at Benito Middle School — earned principal's honor roll this past year. It was a first for the youngster.
"Believing in him, along with his mom and the teachers, did it," Armstrong said. "All of us instilled in him that he could do it."