Men’s basketball players are Big Brothers off the court


The life of a student-athlete can be exceedingly busy — especially for an in-season basketball player with practices or games nearly every day of the week. 

But five members of the Emerson men’s basketball team have made time for a cause they believe in.

Senior guard and team captain Jon Goldberg is one of those players, and as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organization, he’s met and spent time with his “little brother,” third-grader Evan Tan, every Friday since late October. 

Even though he and Tan aren’t related by blood, they have become like family over the past six weeks, according to Golberg. 

In February 2013, Thomas Bentley, the community engagement and recruiting director for the Massachusetts Bay branch of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, reached out to men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien to inquire if his team would be interested in volunteering to mentor students at Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown. 

“We can’t always be takers,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s important that young college students that have a lot going for them, that they understand that there are a lot of young people that are a lot less fortunate. I want them to be tuned into that.”

After O’Brien relayed Bentley’s inquiry to his squad early last spring, Bentley met with the team in April to discuss the potential collaboration. A few months later, in late August according to Goldberg, Big Brothers Big Sisters began interviewing the prospective mentors.

“They asked us about our families and what is great about the closeness of a relationship,” said junior captain Eli Kell-Abrams, one of the players interviewed. “They conveyed to us that that is something that we should establish with our ‘Little Brothers.’” 

Along with Goldberg and Kell-Abrams, sophomores Kirby Johnston, Michael Corcoran, and Kyle Edwards are also taking part in the program.

In late October, they each began spending an hour and a half every Friday taking their kids to lunch, playing with them during recess, and talking with them about school and their lives. 

“So far it has been pretty good,” O’Brien said. “We’re always trying to instill values in our guys to understand [what is] the right way to do things and what is not.”

Goldberg said the team’s involvement in the program has created new opportunities to develop leadership, but its focus is on helping the kids. 

“I thought this was a great opportunity to jump on and help create a better life for a younger generation,” Goldberg said. “I’ve been lucky and had some unbelievable mentors, and now I want to be the mentor.”

Kell-Abrams said he has volunteered for other organizations that focused on youth mentoring.

“I’ve been a camp counselor, youth instructor, and assistant basketball coach, so helping kids has been something I have been doing for a while,” said Kell-Abrams. “This seemed like a nice way to make a difference in a little guy’s life, and I’m doing everything I can to make sure that [my kid] enjoys our time together and that I give him a sense of support.”

According to a Boston Public Schools “Teaching and Learning: School Report Card” from the 2012-2013 school year, published on its website, 79 percent of the 816 students enrolled at Josiah Quincy come from low-income households. 

Bentley said the Big Brothers Big Sisters program helps some of the underprivileged students develop invaluable relationships.

“We’re trying to provide [the kids with] a mentor and a role model,” Bentley said. “Someone to work with them and be there for them and give them support, which kids thrive from.”


This story is the first in a two-part series. Burton’s follow-up will appear in the Jan. 16 issue of the Berkeley Beacon.