Share Post

Hero’s Journey Series | William M. Evans – Neighborhood Benches, Inc.

Filed in Hero's Journey Series — June 22, 2022

In our blog we’ve pulled back the veil on our approach and methodologies through a largely ‘plug and play’ resources and Masterclasses so you can skillfully engage the funding partners your mission deserves.

Black Fox Global

Welcome to the Blog

Black Fox Fundraising Handbook

open source download


In Joseph Campbell’s landmark book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he illustrates common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world.  He discovered several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through, and we could not fail to notice the many client leaders we serve follow a similar arc in their journey toward impact.  

It is our pleasure to continue our Black Fox Philanthropy series entitled “The Hero’s Journey,” profiling these extraordinary leaders and their hero’s journey. We are thrilled to feature William M. Evans of Neighborhood Benches, Inc who came to our attention via our work with Echoing Green Fellows.  He was chosen for his leadership in bringing behavioral changes, influence, and a sense of community to urban neighborhoods.


William M. Evans | Founder & President | Neighborhood Benches, Inc.
Black Fox Philanthropy’s “The Hero’s Journey” Series


Part I: A Call to Adventure/The Quest

What was the transformative moment you realized you must respond to a call to action, and where did that call to action come from?

My transformative moment came when I was wrongfully arrested on gun charges in Harlem.


Part II: Obstacles

What was one of your greatest obstacles?

Proving that my arrest was unlawful and wrong.


Share one of your greatest triumphs and most memorable defeats and how you prevailed.

An impactful moment was when I was arrested, and I witnessed how the criminal justice system saw so many people as nothing more than weak minded individuals who are criminals. I found the need to push forward and to be heard. That push helped me to gain my freedom, it helped me influence change and to get acquitted, essentially getting my life back in a sense. I used that experience to become the 2019 Echoing Green Fellow. The idea of not giving up and creating space for me to spread my wings as I shared my story, my journey and the strength to push forward.


Part III: Supreme Initiation/Helper or Guide

What do you consider your point of “entry into the unknown?”  Who were the most inspirational people/allies who helped guide you on your journey, and how did they help you on your quest (funders, consultants, mentors – people who entered your story at certain inflection points of your journey)?

When I began to volunteer at the Fortune Society, a man by the name of Ray Tebout gave me a chance to learn. I had no idea how many people from my neighborhood were going through the criminal justice system. I wanted to return to my old neighborhood and change the way young people see us as adults, influencers, leaders, and mentors.

Fortune Society: Many people believed in, encouraged, and challenged me to be better at school, working with young people, and understanding my own triggers. This is when I first launched Neighborhood Benches. It was my experience at Rikers Island that pushed me to work on NB full-time. After seeing how the DOC treats people without uniforms and seeing how many young people enter the system, my goal was to prevent that first interaction with the criminal justice system. I also met people here that did not believe in me or value what I brought to the table; that only made me push harder. Here is where I received the first ever title at Fortune Society – ATI Counselor & Community Liaison. I received a large pay increase that came with several different titles, including the Interim Supervisor for ICAN. This experience made me believe in myself. However, it wasn’t until I started meeting with Public Allies NY that I learned how to work with other people to empower those who needed it. I always thought I had to do it alone like everyone else did.

Public Allies NY & United Federation of Teachers – United Community Schools: At Public Allies and UFT, I did not have to belong to a specific group, I just had to respect the people and the work. While designing the NB programs, I joined Public Allies NY and learned so much from the people there. They all showed up being who they are and shared their knowledge with me; they may not even know they encouraged me to be who I am at all times. It is NEVER easy showing up as a person of color, but you must be comfortable with being you. I respected the fact that their training and organizing techniques centered around equality and healing. This made it easier to understand different races, cultures, sexuality choices, and the impact on us as a race. They also placed me with UFT under the leadership of the UCS. Such people like Karen Alford, a black woman in a position to develop and design power, including using her voice to uplift those individuals the schools are responsible for. When she shows up, you know she’s in the building and her presence is delivered in a supportive, caring, and empowering way. Christine Schuch was someone under the leadership of Karen Alford and coordinated a team of great women to stand with schools. Christine used her voice with authentic and unique words every day. Her patience and direct attention created space for me to understand how an organization is run successfully, even while being who you are as an individual. As a team, we spent late evenings in the office preparing grant proposals. What I enjoyed most was the responsibility placed on me to make school visits with her and the team. People like David Ng educated me as the UCS assistant. He was so organized and patient, as well as supporting women in leadership. Each leading member of UCS was a woman and David was there to stand with them. David showed me how powerful it is to be present and supportive to your team.

I knew healing had to happen from within. I decided to return to the root of the harm, which led me to my old neighborhood in South Bronx. It was there that I met the children of impacted people, the same people that grew up with me and those that watched me grow. These same people cheered me on and encouraged me to build community and relationships within the neighborhood. This was a way to keep the families and the young people safe and is where I gained the courage to apply to Echoing Green and become the 2019 Echoing Green Fellow.

Nonetheless, with all of these great experiences, I’ve been challenged and faced with many barriers. It’s what I’ve done in between that was supportive in bridging the gap and understanding how these systems work. One thing people fail to realize is, if those in leading positions are not seeing you as their ally, they are seeing you as a threat. Everyone seems to be in negative competition. Knowing this, I decided to discuss NB program planning and self-care strategies with amazing people who have experience in the area, too many people to name, as well as Echoing Green Fellows.

I’m a person that takes healing seriously and acknowledges it is vital to our growth, even as adults. To practice self-care and healing, I enrolled with Restorative Roots Collaborative (RRC) and the Institute for Transformative Mentoring (ITM). As a student at ITM I had the opportunity to start the healing process. ITM centers around healing and restorative practices to work with others and help understand triggers. My work with RRC is about checks and balances and how we show up. This connection to restorative practitioners keeps me grounded and reminds me of the importance of checking myself and making sure I am working for others as well as myself. I am appreciative of the connections I’ve made on my journey to healing and I look forward to making many more. This is what makes me a better person to my community and my family, especially my children.


Part IV: Hero’s Return/Transformation

What was one of your most significant transformations? (For the people you are serving and in community with, but also your own)

Being chosen as a 2019 Echoing Green Fellow was a transformative moment for me; I was one of only 34 people who were selected from over 2,500 applicants. My idea to transform community focused on gathering folks from the neighborhood to lead in the changes and this is recognized for BMA. So many, including myself, felt the need to grow as neighborhood leaders. This was so inspiring to so many and helped to transform me internally.

Neighborhood Benches, Inc. aims to reduce early exposure to violence and incarceration for young adults ages 12-30 by utilizing an inclusive, diversified approach through its Neighborhood-Schooling Teaching Practicum for Mentorship Development programs. Click here for more information or visit