Black History Month 2020

This February at Alvis, we proudly celebrate Black History Month. Black History Month commemorates the pivotal role that African Americans have played in shaping our U.S. history, and allows us time to acknowledge the stories, struggles, and achievements that past and present members of the Black community have experienced.

The 2020 theme for this year’s Black History Month is “African Americans and the Vote,” honoring the 100-year landmark since the 19th Amendment, which granted women across the U.S. the right to vote, and the 150-year anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote in 1870.

Black History Month Alvis Blog

We thank our incredible African American staff members, clients, and leaders who represent Alvis and its mission to the fullest. 

Some of the talented individuals who have we have previously spotlighted in written pieces include Harry Cox, Keith Stevens, Terrance Hinton, Camilla Jackson, and our President and CEO, Denise M. Robinson. 

Keith Stevens is an Alvis board member, who began connecting with our organization in 2012 through his company, Proteam Solutions Inc. (PSI), in the late 1990s. Stevens previously served on the board of Community Connection for Ohio Offenders, another nonprofit that became a part of Alvis in 2012. He acknowledges the significance of Black mentorship, which he received during his teenage years working for and witnessing a successful Black family-owned business. Seeing people that could relate to him being successful gave him “nuggets of wisdom and the ability to imagine it for himself.”

He also touches on discrimination, finding that while he has faced his share of struggles and experienced racial discrimination firsthand, he encourages those who do experience adversity to “lean into” it, so they may grow and pursue their passions to the fullest—even if that might mean working twice as hard compared to people who do not experience the same hardships.

Harry Cox, Senior Cognitive Behavioral Specialist at Alvis, has directly mentored and served as a role model to our client population. After experiencing the justice system firsthand, he’s dedicated his life to helping others navigate similar challenges and experiences that he did many years ago. In a recent interview, Cox stresses the importance of client-centered therapy. “It’s not about me,” he continues to repeat. “My whole day consists of allowing a person to be themselves. Allowing them to get rid of some of the pain while they’re in the group room.” Our job at Alvis, according to Cox, is to give clients the tools they need to turn their own lives around.


Cox also acknowledges that his job doesn’t end when he leaves the reentry center for the day. After moving to Gahanna, he realized that he was further removed from the experiences of his clients, most of whom resided on Columbus’ East Side. “When I closed my door at night,” he reflects, “I couldn’t see my environment. I couldn’t see my community.” This led him to sell his house in Gahanna and move back to the East Side. Now, he’s involved with a number of local organizations, and engages with the community from the ground floor. “You ever walk into a place and every day you know that it’s going to be a new beginning? Not for you, but somebody else? That’s what I look forward to, walking in here every day.”

In one of our recent blog posts, we spotlighted Dr. Terrance Hinton, Program Manager of Reentry Services at Alvis, who oversees both EDGE and the H.I.R.E. program. The EDGE (Empower Development by Gaining Employment) Program is a five-month program assisting justice-involved individuals to overcome barriers to employment. It is a partnership between Alvis, the City of Columbus, and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio (WBDCO).

When it comes to our clients, Hinton holds the same perspective as Cox: “Reentry has always been a part of me, because I value second chances. I believe everyone should be given a second opportunity to become successful and become a productive member of society.” Helping clients unlock their maximum potential is a key motivator for Hinton to get out of bed every day.


Camilla Jackson is a Direct Support Professional (DSP) with Developmental Disability (DD) Services at Alvis. Jackson was recognized in June by the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, winning two awards that commend her work as a DSP with Alvis: the Horizon Award and the Constellation Award. The Horizon Award celebrates Jackson’s ability to match people’s interest to events, and helping them expand their horizons, while the Constellation Award credits her capacity in providing opportunities for growth and advancement, helping co-workers become the brightest stars. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of Jackson’s job is simply being there for clients and listening to them. “I make sure that the guys are in good health, make sure they’re safe at all times.” She finds, too, that an essential component of the job is “making sure you treat them right,” and making sure “they have a good day.”

Finally, our President and CEO, Denise M. Robinson, has illustrated through her actions that she not only understands the plethora of key problems facing our community, but that it takes unity, empathy, and understanding to enact any sort of fundamental change. At our recent Amethyst graduation, she perfectly summed up what it means to be a true community advocate, telling graduates to keep us nearby “in case you need to shout down the voice of addiction when it tries to tempt you into returning to old habits,” and to know that they would “always have a personal cheering section” as they continue throughout life’s journey. 

As we celebrate this month, we recognize our own African American staff and leaders, many of whom, like the ones spotlighted above, are performing key roles (on and off the clock) in producing widespread, positive impact throughout the state.

Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.

Black History Month Spotlight: Keith Stevens

KeithStevens02 (002)

To continue with our celebration of Black History Month, we are focusing on accomplishments that are not only occurring within the black community, but in the Alvis community as well. Last week, we were fortunate to sit down with Alvis’ board chair and devoted entrepreneur, Keith Stevens. Keith has served on the Alvis board since 2012 and his dedication to philanthropy and out-of-the-box business practices have had a notable effect on those around him since starting his own staffing business in 1992. This Urbana, Ohio native started Proteam Solutions Inc. (PSI), with nothing but $500 and ambition for success. He located his office in a high unemployment area with a mission of helping neighborhood residents find gainful employment. The company grew rapidly once word spread about Keith’s mission. PSI thrived until the 9/11 attacks prompted his business model to pivot, placing more focus on higher end staffing including finance and accounting, human resources, and creative, to name a few.

After maintaining this structure for seven years, PSI was taken by surprise when the 2008 recession struck. It severely impacted their clients’ businesses, thus impacting PSI sales. Though this was a hit to the company’s stability, Keith used this negative event to drive positive change when he made the decision to double down on technology, positioning PSI for the future of the fast-evolving market. Not long after that, PSI, indirectly through partnerships with non-profits and other charitable organizations, was able to continue giving back to the communities where PSI started.

Over the past few years, Keith’s business has continued to develop and evolve, becoming more efficient and successful. After being involved in the day to day operations for so long, he decided it was time to shift his focus to working on the business. Keith elected to implement EOS, the Entrepreneur Operating System. EOS provided PSI with the leadership framework to better manage and grow the business. In turn, EOS has allowed Keith to be less involved in the day-to-day blocking and tackling and more focused on growing the company’s three business lines that include IT Consulting, IT Staffing, and Business Process Outsourcing for non-profits.

PSI’s Business Process Outsourcing provides non-profits with back office support services including Employer-of-Record Payroll services, Accounting and Finance, Technology and Marketing support. Non-profits with budgets of $5,000,000 or less often experience administrative headaches that take time and attention away from delivering on their core mission. PSI helps these organizations remain mission-focused, allowing them to use their resources to achieve better outcomes for those they serve.

Over time, Keith has learned that in business, it is not all about top line growth; it is about the bottom line and spending less than you take in. You must also pay attention to the need to scale and ensure that your infrastructure can handle growth. Most importantly you must “give to get.” Since practicing these positive principles, he has created a company culture that is dedicated to the core values of service and communication. The PSI team is driven to serve, solve, and deliver for every employee, client and the community in order to accelerate their success. Over the past 27 years and through this day, Keith proudly stated that his company has never missed a payroll. This is a statement that would resonate with all entrepreneurs.

Keith became involved with Alvis in the late 1990s when PSI began providing Alvis clients with employment opportunities. He joined the Alvis board formally in 2012 after his board involvement with Community Connection, another non-profit agency.  Community Connection  provided job readiness and related services to individuals with justice involvement who were reentering society.  Community Connection became a part of Alvis in 2012.  When Keith was offered a board position with Alvis, it was an easy yes since he already knew the Alvis mission. He is now in his seventh year on the board. As board chairman, he is focused on facilitating good board governance and collaboration. Keith’s favorite parts about Alvis are the mission, programming, and reputation. The Alvis leadership and staff are passionate and dedicated, achieving results with testimonials to prove it. As a board member, he focuses on strategy and vision, working with his peers to ask questions, test theories, and encourage healthy debate. He plans to continue contributing his time, talent and treasure to Alvis.

After learning about Keith, it is easy to see why he has become so successful. His business savvy is a source of great advice, so read on to see if you can take something new away from his words of wisdom!

Keith on mentorship:

Most great mentors have a mentor of their own that helped to shape them into the successful person that they ultimately turned out to be. For Keith, his business mentor, James Willis, was an African American business owner he first met as a 14-year-old working a paper route. Keith recalled that he would want to avoid going into this customer’s house due to the smell of diapers. One day while passing by the back of the house, he noticed a panel truck on the property with Mr. Willis’ name plastered on the side; he watched this man grow his business over the next seven years to have four locations, placement in retail stores, and a warehouse. Through a friend, Keith got a job working for the company selling beauty supplies for the owners, James, and his brother, Sherman Willis. Through this experience, witnessing a successful black family-owned business; seeing people that he could relate to being so successful gave him “nuggets of wisdom and the ability to imagine it for himself.” He also garners inspiration from others like the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, and the many local Columbus entrepreneurs like Dawn Dickson and Rachel Freedman.

Keith’s advice for handling criticism:

When it comes to criticism, Keith says that being a good listener is crucial and facilitating an environment that promotes open communication is key to conflict resolution. Irrespective of where someone is in their social strata, constructive criticism can ultimately provide value. Keith’s rule of thumb? Do not respond to strong criticism until 24 hours has passed.

Keith on employee appreciation:

Keith is a huge believer in the strength of Alvis’ team. He says that those on the front line are “where the rubber meets the road” and there is a special concentration on the people and the culture within the Alvis community. He feels that there is great opportunity for Alvis to shine light on the spirit of what they represent, and that Alvis’ core values are key and should drive all hiring and firing decisions. A focus on culture needs to be a priority in all businesses, Alvis included.

Keith’s advice for young professionals:

He had three main pieces of advice for those just entering the workforce: Be respectful, communicate professionally, and don’t be afraid to fight for what you believe. If someone doesn’t initially appreciate your efforts and dedication, over time they can be proven wrong if given the opportunity. You should ultimately use these experiences as fuel, not a reason to stop moving forward.

Keith on discrimination:

Overall, Keith does not feel hindered by the discrimination he has experienced. He encourages those who may experience it to “lean into adversity.” One first-hand example of discrimination Keith experienced was with a client. After bringing in a mostly all-black team of employees to help a shoe warehouse meet their high demands, they found that they were the only people of color among the other employees and the difference was palpable. He feels that the prejudice stemmed from fear; nevertheless, Keith’s team rose above it gained the respect of the client’s team in just a few short months. People of color often know or feel that they have to work twice as hard to prove themselves in society, but that shouldn’t deter them from pursuing their passions.

Presently, Keith is continuing to pursue HIS passion for business and actively volunteers on multiple boards. His most recent endeavor? Becoming the chairman of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce board! We thank Keith so much for the opportunity to sit down and chat about his experiences. We are so thankful we him on our team. To keep up with Keith, be sure to follow him on LinkedIn.

Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.

Blog post written by Marketing & PR Intern, Paige McKirahan

Black History Month: Fast Facts

Here at Alvis, we like to celebrate diversity in all aspects and walks of life. Each February, we recognize African American excellence in honor of Black History Month. Americans have now been commemorating black history for almost 100 years, beginning with “Negro History Week” in 1926. Negro History Week was created by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-educated historian who hoped to raise awareness about the contributions of African Americans to society during a time of great prejudice. Woodson was the child of former slaves and his strong will allowed him to overcome adversity. He left Kentucky coal mines at age 20 to enroll in high school. He completed the high school curriculum in just two years and continued in school until he received his Ivy League Ph.D. Throughout his course of study, he became increasingly aware of the lack of African American experiences being detailed in history books. For the most part, the black community was ignored by historians and when African American history was included, it tended to reflect period society’s racially intolerant view that African Americans were somehow inherently inferior. 

To combat this, Woodson ambitiously established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in 1915 and made it his responsibility to write African Americans into his country’s history. The following year, he founded the Journal of Negro History. The publication came to be widely respected across the nation. 

Though he was finding great success in his quest to educate and inform, Woodson wanted to continue making leaps for the African American community. In 1926, he and his organization announced Negro History Week. It was first celebrated in the second week of February which encompassed both Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. The creation of the event was received so positively by the public that it began igniting social change all over the country. Black history clubs were formed, educators began demanding changes in curricula, and progressive whites publicly supported ASNLH’s efforts. They also encouraged their more conservative counterparts to do the same.

Over the following 20 years, Negro History Week became a widely celebrated event and was a touchstone for substantial progress in race relations in American culture. By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, mayors across the nation were declaring their support for Negro History Week.  

The 1960s brought the Black Awakening, which was pivotal in highlighting the importance of black history to all Americans, regardless of color during the transformative Civil Rights movement. Finally, in 1976, 50 years after the first “Negro History Week,” President Gerald Ford extended the celebration to span the full month of February.  The President encouraged Americans to “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” By this time, the vast majority of Americans understood the importance of black history and how integral it has been in the creation and telling of America’s true story.  The ASNLH, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, has stayed true to its mission to educate the public about African American history 365 days a year.

For more famous factoids about rich history of African Americans in the United States, check out this article from History.com! Be sure to stay tuned all month long as we celebrate different examples of African American excellence in our Alvis community and across the nation. Up next week: a spotlight profile of Keith Stevens, Chair, Alvis Board of Trustees!

Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.

Blog post written by Marketing & PR Intern, Paige McKirahan