Rhode Island’s Emerging Leaders — Elijah Stephenson

Wednesday, May 10, 2017
GoLocalProv and United Way of Rhode Island

Elijah Stephenson
Where is Rhode Island going and who is going to take us there? Well, United Way of Rhode Island and GoLocalProv have teamed up in identifying some of the emerging leaders in Rhode Island and asking them questions about leadership and the pathway to a better future in Rhode Island.

Meet Elijah Stephenson

Title/Employer: Community Engagement Specialist, YouthBuild Preparatory Academy

Age: 28

Who has been your most important mentor and why?

I would say my most influential mentor is actually a group of men who I am surrounded by on an almost daily basis. Each one has given me a tremendous amount of support and taken me under their wings. These men are: Anthony Hubbard of YouthBuild Preparatory Academy, Robert Nyahkoon of YouthBuild Preparatory Academy, Kyle Bennett of United Way of Rhode Island, and Israel Mitchell Brother.

Each one of these men has been an invaluable mentor since I moved to Rhode Island in 2009, guiding me through different aspects of life with their advice and unique perspectives. Whether I’m looking for support professionally or personally, I know I can call any of them and they will be there for me.

What inspires you in your day-to-day life?

I am inspired by being in a position to create change in my community. I am happy and proud to live and work in the Olneyville neighborhood. Living in Olneyville has inspired me to want to be a leader to the many children I am surrounded by and to say I am helping to make my community better. I work with children each day and I find inspiration when they approach me for anything from help with their homework or solving an issue with a friend to needing something from the store. Children really are our future and they inspire me to help create a community that’s better than the one of today.

I also have the opportunity to work with some amazing young men at Nathanael Greene Middle School, West Broadway Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School and Highlander Charter School. I’m part of the New Beginning Academy, which is a program designed to mentor about 20 young men in each group. The group focuses on academic support, critical exposure, and college and career prep. I feel fortunate to work with the program’s co-founder, Robert Nyahkoon, who has taught me so many things. The most important thing I’ve learned from him is that ensuring success among the young men we work with is done not only through building a strong relationship with them and their families, but to also work on their social-emotional learning and build character competencies. Being able to be that extra support that helps them on the path to success is a gift in itself.

How are you helping to make Rhode Island better?

I’ve had many life experiences that statistically say I should either be dead or in jail. I decided to overcome those challenges and use them to my advantage. A wise man once told me, “I don’t look like my testimony,” and that statement rings very true for me. While working at the YouthBuild Preparatory Academy, I have the opportunity to help so many young men and women see that failure is not an option. So many of our students have gone through, or are currently going through, things that most people couldn’t imagine. I want to inspire them and give them hope that trouble doesn’t always last; that you have a choice in what your life becomes. I want them to know that I understand what they’re going through, but that it’s their choice to pick themselves up and find a way to make good things happen. If I have helped even one young person see that, I have already made Rhode Island better. 


Favorite place in Rhode Island: Los Andes Restaurant

Most important book: A Child Called It, by David Pelzer

Something about you that people may be surprised to learn:

I am extremely afraid of blood. I can’t see anyone bleed or get hurt in front of me without having a panic attack. I once cut myself with a staple and nearly passed out from seeing my own blood.

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