Commencement 2023: Arick Evans

A black male college student poses for a photo next to a lion statue

Second Mister Stillman discovers passion for mentoring, new career path

By David Miller

Arick Evans entered Stillman College with just two goals: earn a degree and join Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated.

Once Evans joined the fraternity, “I was halfway there,” he said. But an opportunity – as it often does – would arrive unexpectedly and present a course-altering path for Evans: the mantle of Mister Stillman.

A black male college student walks with young black youth on a basketball court
Evans (middle) works a summer camp on Stillman’s campus last summer.

The role of Mister Stillman was created during Evans’ junior year and carries the responsibilities of serving and leading the men of Stillman College, but, equally as important, helping mentor young men in Tuscaloosa-area schools.

Evans, already a member of Stillman’s Black Male Initiative, was actively engaged in service both on campus and off; his senior year wouldn’t offer much flexibility to lead BMI and wear the crown of Mister Stillman. But after witnessing the outcomes of his work with BMI and the first Mister Stillman, Ronnie Williams, Evans felt called to a greater mission of service.

After a successful campaign toward the end of his junior year, Evans was voted Mister Stillman for the 2022-23 academic year.

“For me, it’s been about taking the time to realize God put me in these positions, and I have to inspire others to be better,” Evans said. “I don’t lead people just to lead them; I lead them to be better versions of themselves.”

Those opportunities to lead will be aplenty for Evans, who will earn his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice Saturday during Stillman’s commencement exercise. Evans will soon begin working with Teach for America, a decision influenced by his mentoring of youth in Tuscaloosa-area schools.

“When I look at the youth in today’s generation, I don’t feel like I’m too far removed,” Evans said. “I can bond with the students about social media and sports and relate to them, which can help me connect with them and become a teacher.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to teach.”

Evans said he’s seen firsthand how building rapport and being consistent can help develop trust and, ultimately, help mentors reach their goals. Evans would lead BMI’s mentoring missions this year at STARS Academy, Westlawn Middle School, and Woodland Forrest Elementary, where they would focus on the key traits of “what it means to be a man” and how to “transition to being a Black man in America.” These traits included: accountability; addressing conflicts; advocating for oneself; business etiquette; and more.

At each school, he says was often reminded of himself.

“I was one of those students who didn’t feel comfortable asking for help,” Evans said. “And being able to reach [the students] we were mentoring to where they felt comfortable asking for help and expressing themselves was incredible to see and be a part of. It motivates you and lets you know you’re making a difference.”

The “wins” for Mister Stillman and BMI were revealed even when they weren’t on the k-12 campuses, Evans said.

“If there was a week BMI or I weren’t able to make it to one of the schools, the teachers would call and email us to say the boys were looking for us,” Evans said. “That’s when I knew we were doing something right.”

Programming – a learning experience

It wouldn’t take long for Evans to fully realize the platform he had to serve beyond campus. Well before the 2022-23 academic year began, he was tasked with organizing and executing BMI’s first Juneteenth Community Celebration on Stillman’s campus.

A black male college student poses for a picture next to a child on a bicycle
Evans was an organizer of “Tools for School,” a school supplies fundraiser and prize giveaway held on campus.

With a sprawling yard of games, activities, and happy, energetic families, Evans quickly learned the “magnitude” of the role of Mister Stillman.

From there, participation, from community partners and sponsors, to eventgoers and beneficiaries, would become his primary focus for each service project. Mister Stillman and BMI would host a successful “Tools for School” supplies drive and the popular “Pictures with Black Santa” event in December. Additionally, Evans, members of BMI, and his fraternity brothers would rally supplies for victims of the tornado in Selma earlier this year.

“There’s a window of opportunity you have to close on,” Evans explained. “We did a bunch of give-back events that helped us network with area agencies, churches, and others to help kids and families who were less fortunate. These connections are really helpful with community outreach, not just for us, but in general.”

Pace yourself

“Go big or go home.”

Evans said his mother’s advice to him about becoming Mister Stillman still resonates, though learning to balance ambition and expectations has been “hard to adjust to.”

The importance of time-management would be critical for Evans to serve and meet the demands of his courses at Stillman, including his senior thesis. His weekend visits to see family in his native Columbus, Mississippi were fewer, too.

“I had to take a step back, and that was probably the hardest part of being Mister Stillman,” Evans said. “You don’t want to let people down. So, one week, I’d have to get my BMI members to handle mentoring in one area, and I would do another. Delegating was the key.”

Ultimately, the demands and the adjustments during Evans’ senior year at Stillman were part of the journey to a successful reign as Mister Stillman. He found a passion for mentoring and teaching and, ultimately, a new career path.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve as Mister Stillman,” he said. “It’s taken me a long time to look at myself and say, ‘wow, I’m really leading people and changing lives.’ I still can’t believe it.”