Big Brothers Big Sisters launching 'out-of-the-box' campaign to find mentors

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- There's power in a positive role model. A good influence can make a monumental difference in someone's life.

But there's a shortage of male mentors and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston is getting creative to find the right guys for the job.

Across the board, there are 900 kids on the waiting list and the shortage of African-American male mentors could be considered severe. To fix that, they're hitting the recruiting trail in the place just about every black man hits every week: the barbershop.

Darryl Blackburn became a little brother when he was 8 years old, growing up on the southeast side without much positive male influence. He was matched with a married couple in oil and gas.

"They told me I would be an engineer because I was good at math and science," Blackburn said. "And it turns out I'm a petroleum engineer now just because they were able to sow that seed of influence and positivity in my academic life."

"With my grandsons, I was more concerned with them because they don't have a lot of male mentorship," said Joyce Ford.

Ford's granddaughter has a big sister. So did her 13-year-old grandson because there were no black men to match him with when they signed up. She said his big sister moved away and after time on the waiting list, he got a big brother.

"He's taken him to college to show him around the university where he's going and he's like, 'Ma I really like UH. I saw the whole campus.' He was just really excited," she said.

Her 6-year-old grandson is one of the 400-plus African-American boys waiting.

Now, a long-time big brother and former board member, Darryl Blackburn, is pushing the envelope to get them matched.

"When we were contemplating where are these black men? They're at church, and they're at the barbershop," he said.

Blackburn is heading up the "Real Men Mentor" Barbershop campaign.

"To me being a mentor is not a choice. It's an obligation," said Jermaine Davis.

Davis owns Xtraordinary Cutz in northwest Houston. He says when Blackburn contacted him about the campaign, he didn't think twice.

"Regardless if you didn't get help growing up, and you did it on your own and pulled yourself up by the boot straps, everybody can't do that. Somebody needs someone to lean on sometimes, and it's our responsibility," said Davis. "Once the barbers understand it, embrace it and become ambassadors for the program, it's going to move a big needle. Because we do have a strong community in the barber world."

"The reality is all that kid needs is a little bit of your time. A little bit of consistency, and it'll change his or her life," Blackburn added.

Right now, there are about 15-20 barbers and barbershops signed up to be ambassadors for BBBS-Greater Houston and recruit their clients.

Blackburn says they're open to as many that will come.

There is a kickoff event set for July 24 at 6:30 p.m.

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