Panther of the Year: Brian Ball is truly the “superman” of his community

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

There are three lessons Brian Ball’s success can teach us all.

  1. GPA is a poor ability to define one’s character.
  2. Starting small doesn’t mean staying small.
  3. The greatest difference you’ll ever make will come through helping your own community.

A Georgia State sophomore, Brian Ball was raised alongside his two sisters by a single mother. He hasn’t landed on exactly what it is he wants to major in, he spent his freshman year of college feeling a little lost, and does most things in life by himself. Two years ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named Ball the Superman of his community. And it’s not hard to understand why.

In his late elementary school days, Ball joined the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club of America, a branch of the nationwide organization that often serves to tutor and guide children of underserved communities towards success. According to both Ball and the organization website, the club offers opportunities to learn and grow for children who “need them the most.”

“Populations at most of the clubs are predominantly black,” Ball said. The Boys & Girls Club offered a designated time for homework, tutors and free snacks. During Ball’s first years there, the organization introduced him to basketball, baseball, ice hockey and, later on, something more important.

“At first, it was just the place for me to go after school. It was fun, it was great. I built a lot of lasting friendships there. When I was 12, I got into middle school, and the Boys & Girls Club started offering me leadership positions.”

He started small by touring around parents of prospective club members and helping around the club. Eventually, Ball joined the club’s leadership program, Keystone, and soon became president.

“Our main goal was to get teenagers to connect the Boys & Girls Club in the community through service,” he said. So they hosted different fundraising events for both children and parents throughout the year, including a Haunted House each year.

Ball then became a leader in the affiliated camp Kiwanis. In his third year serving in the camp, he became the youngest full-time staff member.

“I kept going back each summer, and it just allowed me to learn more about myself. That’s where I learned about patience, where I got my passion to want to work with kids, my love of the outdoors, my best friends,” he said.

What matters most

During his time at the club, Ball founded the Cyber Echo club, tending towards teen artists of all kinds who used their art to address social issues of their time.

“Pretty much the whole time we talked about youth conformity. We felt like, at the time, a lot of teenagers weren’t digging for themselves, they were just following the masses. We really spoke about people just trying to do something different, more so like questioning what they like,” Ball said.

Conformity is an issue that Ball admitted he still struggles with. Despite his involvement and community outreach activities throughout his elementary, middle and high school years, Ball was only conditionally accepted to Georgia State, which made him question if college was right for him.

“I started Georgia State over the summer [of 2016] with the Success Academy,” Ball said. “Based on your GPA, your SAT scores, it calculates your probability of success at Georgia State as an incoming freshman.”

Georgia State’s Success Academy is a freshman assistance program, targeting youth that have a lower GPA and linger around the red lines of becoming a successful university student.

“I didn’t feel like college was for me. I finished freshman year and I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ And it was because I hadn’t been to a Boys & Girls Club for a couple of months, and hadn’t done any community service,” he said.

It took a visit over the summer back to the camp to remind Ball what it was all about.

I’m meant to serve. I’m meant to serve other people. That’s a whole part of who I am, and I lost that when I first got into college. So then, after that summer, I told myself I needed to get back [to being] community oriented,” he said.

A community beacon

Ball became involved with Georgia State’s Office of Civic Engagement program, Panther Breakaway, which organizes community service trips for college students.

“I got back to making sure service was a large part of my schedule,” he said, and made plans for his first trip to Jacksonville, Florida, soon after he joined the program.

Ball spent five days in Florida working on refugee resettlement, tutoring refugees and learning about the difficulties they experience.

“We went to a high school and tutored there, where the majority of the students were refugees or their parents were refugees. Then we spent the other half of the time at Lutheran Social services either learning about what refugees go through entering the country and in the climate now with what Trump’s administration have been doing,” Ball said.

Next, he signed up to be a site leader in the program’s national spring to Costa Rica over the 2018 spring break. Site leaders serve as the organizers for the trip, held responsible for accomodation and schedule organization.

The 10-student group partnered with PeaceWork and visited two major cities within the country.

“While there, we taught English at two schools, Bonilla Primary School and Guayabo Escuela,” Ball said. The group built playgrounds as well as help shape up the gardens of the two schools.

And it’s not over for Ball’s engagement. As a current film major, he said he wants to use the camera to tell stories of issues in the world today, like racism as well as problems impacting the community he comes from.

“Community is supposed to be people helping each other. I think it’s an obligation for people in a community to reach back and give back. People outside the community can only empathize, but people within can not only help, but serve as a beacon for its progression.”

He may not have it all figured out, but Ball’s commitment to serving his community truly sets him as a beacon of hope for his own community. Ball sends an important message about leadership. No matter where you come from and the challenges you’ve faced, perhaps the most important thing you can do is set the right example for others to follow and use your power and resources towards those who weren’t offered either. So that they, in turn, can play their part in changing the world.