NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A proud woman in the Bronx is becomes a mentor to thousands of children in the city and a model for making a difference.
As we continue our series honoring Black History Month, CBS2’s Jessica Layton introduces us to the new leader of the nation’s first and the city’s largest youth mentoring program.
Alicia Guevara is the first female CEO in the 117-year history of Big Brothers Big Sisters Of New York City.
It would be an honor for anyone. But to Guevara, it’s also a “humbling” distinction.
“I come to it with the fullness of my experience as a woman and as a woman of color. I’m a Black woman. I’m a Latina,” said Guevara.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Guevara built a career believing in the power of mentorship – probably because of the indelible mark made by her first mentor, her mom.
“She just believed in me. And having someone tell you that they believe in you when you’re 7, 8 years old is invaluable,” Guevara said. “So, when I look at our young people, no matter what their age, no matter what their stage, I say, ‘I believe in you.’”
Guevara has a kindness, a compassion that’s evident immediately. It no doubt stems from the values taught and the love felt in her old neighborhood on Marion Avenue.
“Our household was the household that took in all the kids in the community. It’s where you could always come get a plate of rice or a cup of sugar,” she said.
“What is it like raising your kids in the same borough where you were born?” Layton asked.
“They get to actually get to see and experience where I lived and appreciate all of the lessons that my community taught me,” said Guevara.
The wife and mother of two now dedicates the same open door and open heart she knew as a child to the 5,300 young people her nonprofit is helping everyday.
One of her many mantras: The mentors are there to compliment the parents, not replace them.
“That belief, that trust that you could do anything – Is there enough of that right now in New York City, particularly in our communities of color?” Layton asked.
“I think we could be doing more,” Guevara said. “I think now is the time to double down and invest in the very potential that’s there. Oftentimes, we talk about building potential. Well, the potential is there.”
“It is really special by seeing people that look like yourself and seeing the amount of love that they get,” Gianna said.
The culture and history of the Black community is something she and her mentor, Paige, often talk about when visiting museums and trying out new restaurants. But the pandemic kept them physically apart for a long time.
“Really, it was almost a year,” Paige said.
In fact, less than a year into Guevara’s position as CEO, she found herself guiding the group of thousands through the coronavirus crisis.
At a time when already vulnerable kids were uprooted from their friends and their schools, it meant careful training for the mentors so they could best help their Littles.
“How to have difficult conversations, compassionate conversations in the face of multiple pandemics. A health pandemic, a pandemic that’s also plagued by racial inequities,” Guevara explained. “I think our littles learned that they were not alone … Now is the moment for them to amplify their voices.”
Even in the current virtual environment, Guevara’s goal day in and day out is to help pave the way for those Littles to do that.
“It’s been made clear to me that representation matters, and that my duty in those spaces is to continue to open up doors so that others can come after me,” said Guevara.
A girl from the Bronx is now a woman in charge, giving back in such a big way to the borough that believed in her.
CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report.