Rovon was 10 years old when Chris Smith became his mentor.
“I feel that I have a responsibility; we all have a responsibility to give back,” Smith, a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters LA, said.
That desire to give back has taken hold in Los Angeles in the past few weeks, as people turn their outrage over the death of George Floyd into action.
Lauren Plitchta, interim president and CEO of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater LA, said, “It’s been incredible to see how many of them know that by changing a young person’s life they can be a part of that transformative impact.”
The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater LA has seen eight times as many people sign up to be volunteer mentors in the past two weeks.
Said Plitchta, “We didn’t put out a call to action, and yet all these amazing individuals came to us and said, 'I want to do this. I want to be a big brother or big sister.'”
The nonprofit matches adult mentors with children and teens facing socioeconomic challenges. In LA, most of those children are Latino and African American and there’s always a waiting list for boys.
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“I think it’s really important for people to be able to see someone who looks like them to create a positive image for them, so we really really need men to step up,” Smith said.
In the three years Smith has been matched with Rovon, he’s watched him grow from a shy kid into a confident teen equipped with coping skills.
“With everything going on in this world, I’ve been thinking a lot about what would this world look like if each of us just committed to helping somebody else," Smith said. "We could really change this world.”
It’s a world which has been especially turbulent for the more than 1,500 kids served by Big Brothers Big Sisters LA.
The pandemic closed schools, forcing kids into social isolation and job losses for many of their parents, and in the past few weeks, protests in the streets calling for social and racial justice. These were some of the topics Rovon tackled with his big brother.
“I was happy he and I could break down what’s going on in a way that he can understand and also in a way that wouldn’t add to his anxiety,” Smith said.
He wants others, especially men of color, to know they are needed as mentors, now more than ever.
Said Smith, “I know you’re feeling something in your heart right now and I just want to encourage everybody to go with that because this is an opportunity to do a lot of good for someone.”