Posted November 8, 2017
Leading the charge for change
Marcus Allen, CLA ’01, works to make sure southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey youth have strong support systems.
When Marcus Allen started his first year at Temple, he was a 28-year-old, nontraditional student who had spent six years playing professional basketball in Argentina, Finland, Israel and Sweden.
He intended to use the college credits he earned previously at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, to complete a Temple degree in computer science. But, at the recommendation of an advisor, Allen, now CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, decided to pivot and focus on a different course of study.
“Studying psychology was the answer,” Allen, CLA ’01, said. “By then I was already working with adjudicated youth as an advocate. Studying psychology gave me insight into how people end up in poverty in the first place and how it severely affects your ability to advance in life.”
That change of plans made all the difference for Allen’s future—and, by extension, the futures of hundreds of children across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
As CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, the Philadelphia area’s largest and most experienced youth mentoring organization, Allen and his team of mentors work to make sure children in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey have access to strong support systems.
About 90 percent of the children Allen and his organization serve live below the poverty line, and many also live in foster care or have one or more incarcerated parents.
“Today’s youth are confronted with deep-rooted issues like mass incarceration, youth violence and educational inequality. Most of these issues stem from poverty,” Allen said. “Poverty is multigenerational, and it affects everything. It affects what you put in your mouth, and what you put in your mouth affects your ability to think. If you’re a child in school and haven’t had an adequate meal, you don’t perform well academically. It’s cyclical.”
Having experienced both urban and rural poverty as a child in a single-parent home, Allen views Big Brothers Big Sisters’ responsibility as ensuring that every child has an opportunity to reach their highest potential. He knows firsthand that one-to-one mentoring is a major part of the solution.
When Allen was only 9 and in the third grade, he met Willie Williams, his lifelong coach and mentor who began to lay the foundation for him to attend college and escape poverty.
Today’s youth are confronted with deep-rooted issues like mass incarceration, youth violence and educational inequality. Most of these issues stem from poverty."
-- Marcus Allen, CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region
“He saw something in me that I didn’t,” Allen said. “He encouraged me so much that I started to believe it.”
Allen’s mission is to break the prevalent cycles of poverty through ongoing innovation and collaboration in quality youth mentoring programs and relationships.
Prior to joining Big Brothers Big Sisters, Allen was CEO of ACHIEVEability, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that works to break the generational cycle of poverty for low-income, single-parent and homeless families by providing academic, employment, housing and family support services.
For three consecutive years, Allen has significantly grown Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region in terms of number of children served, revenue generated from donors and programs, and overall visibility. Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region serves nearly 3,000 children annually and is the organization’s second largest regional hub in the country.
Temple University is a proud supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region. Check out a recap of this year’s Building Big Awards, sponsored by Temple.