Since being named the 2018 National Big Brother of Year as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Murray Miller and Little Brother Jolen have become celebrities around North Carolina.
“We’ve traveled as far away as Wilmington for speaking engagements,” Miller says. “What I love is we’ve been speaking to young people and volunteers and encouraging them.”
Their fame started in 2017 when the local BBBS agency featured their story in email newsletters and social media, and then went on to nominate Miller for the national award. After he won, WXII’s Wanda Starke, a former national Big Sister of the Year, did a story about them, and their story was also published in The Chronicle.
An outpouring of support from the community came in the form of free clothes for Jolen from JoS. A. Bank, Carolina Panthers football tickets, and lots of requests for them to speak to various groups. Parents have even asked Miller and Jolen to include their teenage sons on their weekly outings, hoping that some of their mentoring magic would rub off.
“These experiences have taught Jolen how important and serious mentoring is and how much it’s needed,” Miller says. “Here’s a kid who could have easily gone another direction, and now everyone can see how wonderful he’s turned out.”
Miller, an Army veteran and former firefighter, has poured himself into community service for more than two decades. He spent years as a prison volunteer helping inmates earn GEDs. While it was rewarding, he saw a pattern in the inmates’ lives. They lacked male guidance as young boys and were frequently in and out of jail. That’s when he decided to stop teaching inmates and start mentoring young kids. He was matched with Jolen in 2012 when he was only 9 years old.
“He’s helped me become a young man and a gentleman,” Jolen says. “I know how to treat people with respect, open doors for them, speak with confidence, and look people in eye. He helped me to be a better person.”
Today, Jolen is a high school sophomore who plays football, is on the A/B honor roll, is a Crosby Scholar, and volunteers at Ronald McDonald House. Next year, Miller and Jolen will visit Louisiana State University to meet with an offensive line coach, thanks to a Miller family connection.
“We always talk about how education comes first and where good decisions can take you,” Miller says. “He’s interested in the military because I have a military background. He’s not sold on sports, but he understands the need for good education.
“I thank Big Brothers Big Sisters Services for allowing matches like this because I never would have met Jolen otherwise. We have all respect in world for each other, and we’re never going to end this friendship.”
More than 100 children in Forsyth and Davie counties are waiting for a mentor. To learn how you can volunteer, or to participate in the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser on March 8, go to bbbsnc.org.