Big Brothers Big Sisters Ambassador Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans emphatically stated that the mentoring organization is vital. “As is the case all over the nation,” she said, “kids need help.” “You can tell the level of a civilization by how you treat your children.” She further explained how programs such as the ones that BBBS provides are important to democracy: “To have hungry kids or undereducated kids or children with no mentors is a contradiction to all the things we claim we are.”
Dr. Evans left her desk to read pieces of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s last will and testament, which is framed on her wall. She spoke the words with meaning. “We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”
These ideas influence Dr. Evans work. She is the Director of African American Studies and an Associate Professor of African American Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. In 2003, she received her Ph.D. in African American Studies from the University of Massachusetts. Interestingly, she didn’t start her higher education until age 25. “No one in my family went to college,” she said. Yet when she started, she said she felt at home. Dr. Evans married her colleague Curtis D. Byrd in May 2009. She has lived in Gainesville for seven years.
This semester, she is teaching courses titled Mentoring At-Risk Youth and U.S. Women of Color. Dr. Evans said her passion for teaching has two focuses. First, she said excellence is a priority. She sets high standards for her students and added, “It’s okay to not be great; it’s not okay not to try.” Second, she values ethics. “You don’t have to be brilliant, but you have to be honest.”
She also has a twofold goal for African American Studies. She said she wants to create a bachelor’s degree program and make the department strong by developing partnerships. Dr. Evans paused to think about her life’s path. She said she couldn’t have made it without the guidance of mentors. There was a high school teacher who helped her with her transition to college, a college professor who helped her along and another mentor who helped her when she reached graduate school. However, she said Pam Copley, her eighth grade dance teacher, was the most important.
Copley taught her, “Dancers don’t sweat, they glow.” The two had the same birthdays, and Mrs. Copley gave Dr. Evans her phone number. She would later dial it as she faced some of life’s greatest struggles. Dr. Evans said her teacher “literally saved her life.” “She treated us like gold – like we were the most important people in the world. That’s why I do what I do,” Dr. Evans said. She teaches classes such as Mentoring At-Risk Youth and supports organizations such as BBBS because of the impact that a mentor once had on her.