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New chief of Big Brothers Big Sisters emphasizes need for positive influences

Artis Stevens starts work Jan. 25 with the Tampa-based organization, replacing former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio.
Artis Stevens, the new CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, is pictured here with his family, (from left) Alyse, Aubrey and Dr. Erica Stevens. (Courtesy of the Stevens family)
Artis Stevens, the new CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, is pictured here with his family, (from left) Alyse, Aubrey and Dr. Erica Stevens. (Courtesy of the Stevens family) [ (Courtesy of the Stevens family) ]
Published Jan. 16
Updated Jan. 17

Artis Stevens starts work Jan. 25 as the new CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which is based in Tampa. Stevens, the first Black person to be named CEO of the national nonprofit organization in its 117-year history, replaces retiring chief executive Pam Iorio, former Tampa mayor.

Stevens born in Jacksonville and grew up in Brunswick, Ga., the son and grandson of pastors. He received a master’s degree of public administration in marketing from Valdosta State University and has worked for the Atlanta public housing agency, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National 4-H Council.

“A lot of folks asked me if was going to be a pastor, and I asked my dad the same question. His words always stuck with me: ‘Everyone has their ministry in life. You’ve got to find yours.’’' Working to better the lives of young people is his calling, his ministry, he says.

Stevens, 47, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about the need in the communities, the impact of mentoring on young people and his plans for raising the awareness of the organization.

What does mentoring do for young people?

I believe every young person needs this kind of mentoring. Here is where the challenge comes in, is not every young person has that opportunity. They don’t always have access to positive mentors, which creates an inequity in our country too often. …

Sixty percent of the young people that we serve live in single-parent households. And we know, and I know this from experience in my friends in the community, that that doesn’t dictate whether a young person will be successful or not. But we do know that having multiple mentors, having… that community connection, are things that help young people to grow, to get the type of resilience that they need, to have that type of support. …

The one predictive (of success) that I’ve seen most commonly, whether it’s through anecdote or through the research I’ve seen throughout my career, is having a sustaining positive relationship with an adult, and the more that you have those types of mentoring relationships – and not just one. It’s not a question of replacing a parent. It’s a question of supplemental community, having a network of positive mentors. And particularly those who may not be in your family but that can expose you to new things and new opportunities that may be outside your community are critically important. I had that as part of my life, and I would say it’s one of the biggest predictors of why I’m successful today.

Big brother Marshall, right, chat with Keon. (Courtesy of Big Brothers, Big Sisters)
Big brother Marshall, right, chat with Keon. (Courtesy of Big Brothers, Big Sisters) [ (Courtesy of Big Brothers, Big Sisters) ]

What do you hear from the Big Brothers and the Big Sisters? Is mentoring fulfilling to them?

That was one of the things that I found so uniquely powerful about this program. … We know from a lot of the data that we see and also anecdotally, the volunteer is impacted just as much as the young person. These relationships last for a lifetime.

What are your plans for raising awareness of Big Brothers Big Sisters?

A lot of it starts for me with the story. And it’s the ability to tell the story in different ways and in unique ways. I think one big part of what I’m really interested in doing is really unpacking the story of Big Brothers Big Sisters even more, telling that story in very interesting ways, the testimony of everyone that’s involved …

One of the big things that we’re going to spend a lot of time on with our local affiliates is how do we ensure that we are continuing to take the (young people’s) outcomes, the great amazing outcomes, and unpacking those outcomes more effectively to tell the story of the donors, the stakeholders and the broader community. … Other ways that are really important (are) partnerships. You can only do so much alone, and for us, arguably, to truly tell the story, we’re going need to work the partnerships – corporate partnerships, nonprofit partnerships, educational partnerships. There’s so much that we can do particularly with corporations and foundations with employee volunteerism programs, where employees can be part of the story and remain engaged in that way.

One other way I do want to talk about is just the importance of digital and technology, that we are in a world where digital growth, technology growth, is central. It used to be a good thing to have. It’s (now) an essential thing to have in the way that people operate, the way that they communicate, the way they shop, the way they connect. We have to be (an active) part of that… in the way we do our digital and technology apparatus, to ensure that more people can engage in the story, that more people can be supportive of the story and more people can build a relationship with the organization in new and unique ways.

Big brother Gustavo, left, and Marco on an outing. (Courtesy of Big Brothers, Big Sisters)
Big brother Gustavo, left, and Marco on an outing. (Courtesy of Big Brothers, Big Sisters) [ CARLOS CHAVEZ PHOTOGRAPHY | (Courtesy of Big Brothers, Big Sisters) ]

What is your reaction to being the first Black person to lead the organization?

I’m humbled and honored, because I know what it means, the significance of it, not for myself, but for so many others… who blazed this trail for me to have this opportunity. …

I’m also humbled and honored because I know what it means for millions of others who look like me, who – whether they look like me or maybe have been excluded in some way – that have opportunity to achieve (this) sort of breakthrough. Maybe it inspires them. Maybe it gives them that type of aspiration or feeling to pursue something they want to pursue. So that… gives me a sense of optimism and hope. …

What I hope that it also signifies, and that people see … is the commitment of the organization and the commitment that the country has to have across the board when it comes to not just faces and representation but the meaning behind that, ensuring that there’s more equity and inclusion for all pockets, all communities of our country, to feel like they’re a part and that they belong. That’s the spirit of Big Brothers Big Sisters, is the sense of belonging and connectivity.

For more information, go to https://www.bbbs.org/ .