Zolan Kanno-​​Youngs said he ben­e­fited enor­mously from the Big Brother pro­gram while growing up in Cam­bridge, Mass., recalling how his mentor con­stantly encour­aged him to be the best he could be during their weekly visits together.

So when Kanno-​​Youngs saw the oppor­tu­nity to become a Big Brother him­self as a first-​​year stu­dent at North­eastern, he jumped at the opportunity.

I was a ‘Little’ myself, so when I saw they were recruiting at the com­mu­nity ser­vice fair freshman year, I thought it would be a great thing to get involved with,” said Kanno-​​Youngs, a Ujima Scholar and third-​​year jour­nalism major pur­suing minors in African-​​American studies and com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies. “It’s an oppor­tu­nity to get guid­ance from some­body that’s older than you who’s not in your imme­diate family. It’s not someone you see every day, but for those few hours, all their focus is on you.”

Kanno-​​Youngs has been matched with 10-​​year-​​old Dorch­ester res­i­dent Iza­eyah for the last 18 months; ear­lier this month, Big Brothers Big Sis­ters of Mass­a­chu­setts Bay named Kanno-​​Youngs one of six “Bigs of the Year.” The award was pre­sented at a star-​​studded gala attended by local lumi­naries such as former Red Sox player Jason Varitek. Kanno-​​Youngs, one of 19 North­eastern stu­dents who serve as “Bigs,” was the youngest to be honored.

Izaeyah’s mother said her son’s rela­tion­ship with his Big Brother has inspired him to reach new heights.

I see Iza­eyah thinking more about who he should be as he grows from a little boy to a man,” she said in a state­ment released by the Big Brothers Big Sis­ters of Mass­a­chu­setts Bay. “I also see in Iza­eyah that he is proud of him­self when Zolan tells him that he can do any­thing. I really don’t think Zolan knows how much he has influ­enced Iza­eyah. I know I can never repay Zolan for taking the time out of his life to give my son things I could not give him.”

For as much as Kanno-​​Youngs has given to Iza­eyah, the expe­ri­ence has been just as rewarding to him. He said it’s pro­vided an oppor­tu­nity to engage with the com­mu­nity and give back to an orga­ni­za­tion that helped define him growing up. He has taken Iza­eyah to play bas­ket­ball, shared meals with him at the dining hall; and brought him to the John D. O’Bryant African-​​American Insti­tute, where ear­lier this year the two spoke about their expe­ri­ence in the Big Brothers program.

We’re both African-​​American and I think it’s impor­tant for him to see people who look like us at North­eastern,” Kanno-​​Youngs said. “It makes the idea of col­lege become more real­istic and helps it seem like the kind of goal that really is achievable.”

Big Brothers Big Sis­ters of Mass­a­chu­setts Bay says its orga­ni­za­tion is in “great need” of more vol­un­teers like Kanno-​​Youngs, with more than 1,000 boys and girls in need of mentors.

Kanno-​​Youngs said par­tic­i­pating in the pro­gram has served as an incred­ible com­ple­ment to his rig­orous aca­d­emic studies and allowed him to reflect on the things that lie beyond campus life.

I feel like once you’re in col­lege, you can get sucked into your own work, espe­cially when you’re living on campus and have so much to do on your own,” he said. “So not only is this a great escape, it’s also an oppor­tu­nity to realize just how much is hap­pening in the com­mu­nity and the world and how you can make a huge impact on all of that.”