As it pertains to personal growth, there are very few aphorisms that are as powerful as “you are who you surround yourself with.” Being around positive, goal-oriented people can have a favorable impact during all stages of life, but especially prior to adulthood when one’s identity is especially amenable to change.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA) has been a long-standing nonprofit organization that has deeply cared for children and adolescents (“Littles”) living in destitute circumstances, who can reach out to “Bigs” for guidance, support, and mentorship. With the one-to-one accountability that arises out of these relationships, there is much triumph to be celebrated, and many to recognize for fantastic leadership. On Friday, October 21st, at the historic Beverly Hilton, the annual “Big Bash” fundraising gala hosted by Travis Van Winkle (“The Last Ship”) raised $640,000 and honored, among others, Rita Tuzon (Executive VP of Fox Networks Group) and Daymond John (FUBU owner and “Shark Tank” personality) as recipients of the Sherry Lansing Award, and Walt Disney Man of the Year Award, respectively.
It was a momentous night that underscored how “Bigs” can mentor and make a difference in a multitude of ways, including in the community, at school, in the workplace, and even via the Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program (in conjunction with “The Hollywood Reporter”). Overall, BBBSLA has been so successful that 96 percent of mentees graduate high school, and of those, a whopping 94 percent go on to college. The fact that these resounding results only require $1,500/year for each mentor-mentee pairing, versus the $62,000/year it costs to house a prison inmate, is eye-opening to say the least.
Judge Michael Carter, Secretary of the BBBSLA Board, is well-aware that an adolescent on the wrong path just needs one individual to look up to in order to correct course en route to a better future.
“A lot of the people out on the streets are just kids – and we see that in the courtroom when they’re alone. Many don’t understand street pressure and Big Brothers Big Sisters helps to relieve that by simply caring,” says Carter.
Highlighting the value of the Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program is Rebecca Campbell, President of ABC-owned TV Stations and ABC Daytime, who was on hand with her mentee, Victoria Arevalo, a Loyola Marymount University Freshman. Having begun their relationship in January 2015, Campbell’s tutelage has helped the Salvadoran-born Arevalo earn not only a full scholarship, but ensure that her dream of being a sports broadcaster one day comes true. Yet, Campbell, by her own admission, is similarly better off than ever before given her fortuitous friendship.
“Since arriving from El Salvador at the age of 12, and with all of her challenges, Victoria’s heart still glows. She is kind, compassionate, and has impacted my life just as much as I’ve [impacted] hers,” Campbell proudly states.
Certainly, what goes around, comes around, and those who have been beneficiaries of a Big Brother or Sister will often give back in spades, paying it forward for the next generation. The National Big Brother of the Year and co-founder of Cousins Maine Lobster, Sabin Lomac, is one of those individuals, who still very much corresponds with his Big Brother after two decades.
“I’m closer to him now than I’ve ever been before because I never had a father. I have different questions for him now that I’m an adult – about my 401K, about marriage – and it has become a lifetime bond,” Lomac confides.
Tuzon and John, the headline honorees for the evening, likely have lifelong relationships to look forward to with their own mentees, whose inspiration and appreciation are poignant. For instance, Citlali Castillo, a senior at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Van Nuys, CA, and whose family escaped violence in Mexico, could not be more grateful to Tuzon, who has offered a beacon of great hope to the 4.0 student. And Tuzon, whose father was a Filipino migrant farmer, is the ideal mentor for she can identify with Castillo’s background while serving as proof that life trajectories can drastically change.
Likewise, Moziah Bridges, the 14-year-old CEO of Mo’s Bows (which has sold $400,000 worth of ties), has Daymond John to thank, who, on the basis of “investing in people, not products” has taken a keen interest in the entrepreneurial prodigy since the fifth season of “Shark Tank.”
For John, mentorship has ultimately come in many forms since his rugged childhood in Hollis, Queens (New York), when his father left him at the age of 10. On the strength of his mother’s influence and later his step father’s, John pushed forward as a young adult, despite the crack epidemic that infested his hometown, recounting how his life forever changed when he saw Russell Simmons (of Run-D.M.C.) zip past in a car one afternoon in the late 1980s. Compelled by his desire to be like the rap mogul, John started on an odyssey that would open his mind and alter his perception about what it would take to become a businessman.
“I started working for small business owners and entrepreneurs and realized these were different people. These weren’t nasty people like J.R. Ewing (“Dallas”), Mr. Burns (“The Simpsons”) or even Mark Cuban,” John quips. “They were first in the office, the last to leave, and only blamed themselves if they failed. I wanted to be just like them.”
Now regarded as one of the world’s top entrepreneurs, John is as refreshingly genuine and humble as ever, accepting his award “on behalf of undervalued communities, such as teachers.” He still cites his beloved mother as his most important mentor, and currently his 12-pound baby as his newest.