From Little to Leader: Brianna’s Mentorship Story

Sharmaine Sun Stories February 1, 2024

Phylicia Rashad was Brianna’s first mentor. She was a TV mentor, but still—she was a mother when Brianna’s was out of the picture and was someone to look up to. Brianna was born and raised in Berkeley and lived with her father and twin sisters, both of whom had Bigs of their own. He signed her up in the hopes of giving her a positive female role model and friend. That’s where Tammy came in. 

Tammy was a kind, patient woman and a good listener with a loving family who joined Big Brothers Big Sisters as a mentor wanting to give back. At the time, Brianna was seven, stoic, and shy. It took a while for her to warm up to Tammy, but she remembers now in disbelief when Tammy told her she hardly talked the first year of their Match. Brianna laughs, quoting Tammy saying, “‘Unbelievable, right?…Because once you started, you just wouldn’t stop.’”

Brianna and Tammy at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Annual Match Picnic.
Brianna and Tammy at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Annual Gala in 2023.

Tammy brought Brianna to Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, the Annual Match Picnic, and took her to her first concert (Janet Jackson) with tickets from the agency. Both treasure memories of time spent together. “I just remember having someone like a Big Sister that took me away from it all,” Brianna says. Growing up in a home where family dynamics were complicated and sometimes left her feeling lonely, Brianna recalls, “My Big Sister was someone who was all mine, and I remember that most.” And when things at home grew tumultuous, Brianna knew she always had Tammy to look after her. “Tammy is just definitely a solid foundation. She’s a solid somebody when your world doesn’t seem to be so solid.” Tammy set an example of what it meant to be a successful career woman with a loving family which helped support Brianna through elementary, middle, and high school—and all the way through college where Tammy was front and center at Brianna’s graduation from UC Berkeley. 

“My Big Sister was someone who was all mine, and I remember that most.”

Tammy and Brianna’s Match formally closed after Brianna turned 18, but even now, both laugh and admit they’re still Matched all these years later. All the while, Brianna grew into the incredible, capable, bright person she is today and found her voice along the way, something she now prides as one of her strengths, which allows her to connect people. Tammy has so much pride in her Little Sister and in her leadership potential she saw blossom. Tammy shared, “I probably didn’t have the words back then to really kind of articulate that you’re going to be something special. I just knew it.” 

Brianna has lived up to her potential in every way. She is a new home owner, an avid gardener, and a mother to a wonderful daughter. She is an Initiative Officer for ReWork the Bay, funding workforce development pathways and increasing access to good quality jobs. She is an invaluable member of our Board and East Oakland Youth Development Center’s Board and Co-Chair of our 2023 Gala. In short, Brianna is a community leader and part of our organization through and through. She has used her voice, her ability to connect people, and her ability to share her story and our mission to help her remain authentic in her leadership and support mentorship for the next generation of Littles.

Now, Brianna is newly Matched with a Little of her own. “I went through that. I had Tammy, so, I wanna be someone’s Tammy,” she says. She strives to embody her beliefs and works to raise others up. “I’m from that mindset. Each one teach one…I think that is our duty.” Brianna is looking forward to being a positive role model for her Little and allow her the safe space to imagine her future and unlock her potential. “People become what they see,” Brianna says. “I think that sometimes you need to see it.” After all, she saw it with Tammy, saying, “I saw her philanthropic side as well…no wonder I’m a philanthropist.”

The power of mentorship, Brianna shares, is opening opportunities for youth to envision themselves outside of their current circumstance and to imagine more for themselves. In short, mentorship helps unlock potential just that’s always been there, just waiting to be tapped.

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