Brandon Evans of Gainesville didn’t pursue the role of a mentor, it found him.
When working as a physical education teacher and piano instructor at Centennial Arts Academy nearly 10 years ago, he said kids just gravitated toward him.
“Students were drawn to him,” Charlene Williams, who was principal during the time, said. “He has such a good heart. Before I knew it, he worked bus duty, and some of the bus drivers asked him to speak to kids. He wound up having about 30 young students in elementary school he was working with.”
Evans said he eventually started an official brotherhood program, which he later established in 2019 and named Man Alive. In 2015, he left his teaching position and continued to mentor kids while working as a substitute teacher. Several years later, Gainesville City Schools’ hired him as the district’s mentorship coordinator.
Evans said 85% of the boys he mentors come from single mother homes. And although he said most have strong parental figures, oftentimes they need a little push to become their best selves.
“I do understand growing up as a young African American man, sometimes you need that outside influence to talk to you and speak about life,” Evans said. “As men, sometimes we need a man to step in — whether an uncle, grandpa or mentor — to be the positive person in their life to see they can be successful.”
Knowing when to show up
By building connections with students, Evans is able to hear about the obstacles they face like trauma, self esteem issues and the death of loved ones.
Jamie Green, principal at Gainesville High School, said a couple of weeks ago, a number of students lost a family member and found out on the way to school.
“It just rocked them, you know,” Green said. “Before I could even turn around, Brandon was already coming in. Tell me how many people in the community respond like that. He just instinctively knows where he’s got to be, when he’s got to be there and how to be when he’s there.”
Green said Evans not only offers counsel to students, but himself. When he feels like he can’t get through to a kid who’s going through a difficult time, he reaches out to Evans.
“It’s like calling in Batman,” Green said. “You put the Brandon sign up, and he comes in and helps us. He’s so compassionate, and he truly cares.”
Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said Evans is a young man who wants to invest in students and help them find opportunities.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s two students or 30 students, he’s going to take them on,” he said. “For somebody to have a heart like that, it’s just phenomenal.”
It’s all about growth
While keeping up his role as mentorship coordinator for Gainesville City Schools and co-owning his family’s music lesson business, Evans Music Productions, Evans also stays in touch with 25 young men and boys who are a part of his Men Alive program.
He said the name Men Alive came from an idea that kept popping into his head about how people can be “dead mentally and spiritually inside, but physically alive.”
“I think sometimes when we have traumatic experiences, and when I come across some of these kids, sometimes they are broken inside,” Evans said. “They’re alive, but not alive fully. I want to make sure all of my boys are not just walking physically and dead on the inside. I want them to be secure in who they are. I want them to be alive on the inside and outside.”
Through his program, Evans not only acts as a direct mentor to each boy, he also introduces them to new community-building experiences. In October, he gathered the students to help paint the outside of the Beulah Rucker Museum in Gainesville, and for June 19, also known as Juneteenth and Emancipation Day, they helped restore the inside of the building. Evans has also taken his mentees on outings, including a trip to watch a Morehouse College game in Atlanta.
Evans said he regularly tells students that he doesn’t expect them to be perfect, but he expects some progress.
“My ultimate hope for any of the guys I come into contact with is they can literally take something I have taught them or exposed them to, and stand and capitalize on it and become a great successful human being,” he said.
The mentor said one of his proudest moments involves his experience with a sophomore in high school who was once a juvenile delinquent “heading in the wrong direction.”
This year, Evans said the student shifted his outlook on life and is now passing all his classes and even has a job.
“He completely turned his life around, and that was big and emotional for me as a mentor to sit back and watch,” Evans said. “This was a kid that I felt like many people and school system officials had given up on, but I never did. I’m so proud of him.”
Charlene Williams, who is also the volunteer executive director of the Beulah Rucker Museum, said Evans has a gift with kids and teenagers, one that many adults cannot touch. She said he can repeat the same lines another teacher has used with a child, but have a completely different effect.
“The way he presents it to them straight and a matter-of-fact, they don’t take offense,” she said. “They don’t want to let him down.”
Chamarion Bush, a junior at Gainesville High, said Evans has been his mentor since middle school and describes him as “a cool dude and somebody fun to be around.”
Jeremiah Dukes, sophomore and member of Men Alive, said Evans has truly helped him in different situations and gives good advice.
“He’s been there every step of the way,” he said.