Huntington University campus pastor tells BBBS mentors how program made a difference

Arthur Wilson, campus pastor at Huntington University, discusses his relationship with the mentor he was paired with through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana. Wilson spoke during an appreciation breakfast for local BBBS mentors.
Arthur Wilson, campus pastor at Huntington University, discusses his relationship with the mentor he was paired with through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana. Wilson spoke during an appreciation breakfast for local BBBS mentors. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Jan. 19, 2014.

Arthur Wilson is accustomed to dispensing advice.

He has four kids of his own.

He's worked with youth through Fort Wayne Area Youth for Christ.

His counsel is sought by students at Huntington University, where he now serves as campus pastor.

But he knows - through personal experience - that advice, though sound, isn't always followed.

He ignored advice from his big brother on what girl to date, what car to buy.

"And you know what?" Wilson says. "He loved me anyway."

The big brother in question wasn't even a blood relative. He was an adult mentor paired with Wilson through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, a relationship that the now 34-year-old Wilson continues to cherish.

"Cliff treated me as if I was his own son," Wilson says. "Cliff did fatherly things for me, and still does to this day."

Wilson got involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters through Project Mentor, a BBBS program that focused on young African-American males in Fort Wayne. Wilson was a student at Memorial Park Middle School when his mom sighed him up.

"She understood the value of having a male role model around," Wilson says. "I also believe my mother wanted better for me than what was our current state."

Wilson says he was paired with a couple of other Big Brothers before making the connection with Cliff - a professional African-American man with multiple degrees and an influential position in the community. That pairing showed Wilson something more than the drugs and gangs that tempted him and his peers.

"Because of Big Brothers Big Sisters, I was spared," Wilson said during an appreciation breakfast Jan. 16 for local big brothers and big sisters.

Later, sitting in his office at Huntington University, Wilson ticks off some of the things he learned from Cliff- how to be responsible, how to respect people, how to dress.

He remembers the time Cliff took him to a posh Fort Wayne restaurant.

"He said, ‘You know, Arthur, there's a different world out there and it's my goal to show it to you,'" Wilson says.

Most of the pair's time together was spent in less exclusive locales - Cliff's house for dinner or a basketball game on TV; visits to colleges, both public and historically black schools; helping Cliff mix tapes for the DJ business he ran in addition to his regular job; discussions with AIDS victims or victims of violence.

"We even took a prison visit," Wilson says.

The two lived several miles apart when Wilson was growing up, so it wasn't until Wilson turned 16 and bought a car - the car his big brother had advised him not to buy - that he started driving over and dropping in. Cliff established a rule.

"The car was a lemon," says Wilson. "It had transmission problems and it leaked, so he said I couldn't park it in the driveway."

The car lasted "maybe a month" before giving up the ghost, Wilson says.

One area where Cliff didn't try to sway Wilson was his choice of career.

"I was always set on ministry," Wilson says. "Church was almost an escape for me.

"I decided a long time ago that was my course, and Cliff understood that - even though ministry is not the path to riches."

Wilson says his home life, though, owes a lot to Cliff.

"I learned how to be a dad, watching Cliff's love and his example he showed being a father," Wilson says. "Cliff was a really good dad."

With his responsibilities to Huntington University, his wife and his four children, Wilson says the time's not yet right for him to step up as a big brother. But, eventually, it will be his turn.

"I am very much looking forward to the day I have the freedom to be involved in the program," he says. "When I do make that commitment, like Cliff, it's a commitment for life."