By Itoro N. Umontuen
Kwame Johnson is currently the CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Atlanta and has served in that capacity since March 2018. While taking over for the departed Janice McKen.
“I’ve been in nonprofit my whole career and I decided to leave Hampton University to be a social entrepreneur,” Johnson said. “My parents thought I was crazy when I did that, but I found my passion.”
At 17 years of age, Johnson found himself in prison and met young men that were in poverty, didn’t have their parents in their lives and upon his release, the inmates told him: go as far as you can go and don’t forget us.
Previously, Johnson was the Director of the Greater Atlanta Region for PowerMyLearning. Under Johnson’s leadership, the Atlanta region of PowerMyLearning doubled its revenues and in-kind computer and software donations in less than three years – in part by narrowing its focus and partnering with over a dozen leading foundations and corporations to increase the impact on youth being served.
PowerMyLearning now operates in 15 area schools, up from five three years ago, and currently serves about 1,500 students. It is regularly cited as a top program partner by Atlanta Public Schools.
“Coming here from D.C., there are two different cities within Atlanta. However, we serve all 12 counties. 95% of the kids go to the next grade level, 95% of the kids graduate, and 97% avoid the criminal justice system,” said Johnson when asked about the achievement gap. “The 1600 kids we serve in the city will help bridge some of that divide and our goal is to double that number while serving the kids south of Interstate 20, on the west side and in the tough neighborhoods that may be living in poverty and may not have father figures.”
While many have thought of Big Brothers, Big Sisters as just a mentorship program, there have been people that have matriculated through the program and are now giving back to the organization, as an example of paying it forward. Johnson says there are 400 boys and 100 girls (known as littles) currently on the waiting list looking to be paired up.
Interested individuals must be over 21 and able to commit to meeting with the little a few times a month for at least one year. Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Atlanta also asks, interested persons must have reliable transportation, plan to reside at their home for at least 1 year, consent to a criminal background check and be drug-free.
In addition, adults interested in becoming volunteers in the program must live in the one of the following counties: Butts, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale.
“This is something anybody can do, whether you’re someone who travels, is a teacher or an executive, this is for anyone,” said Johnson. “[Atlanta Police] Chief Erika Shields is a big sister. Atlanta Fire Department Chef Randall Slaughter is going through the process to become a big brother. I just became a big brother to a kid that is seven years old. What I tell people it’s not about creating new time, it’s incorporating this person in your existing time. We help people figure that out and we match people who best fits your life and someone you want to work with.”
Johnson says the matches last for more than three years. Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Atlanta seeks to match the interests of the littles with the bigs.
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice.