Winter 2019

Listen Up

Lending an ear, empowering others.

Jessica RuffinJessica Ruffin’s Little Sister was having a hard day.

As a volunteer mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Ruffin regularly spent time with her mentee, or “Little Sister”—a girl in 10th grade. But she was also available to help with sudden challenges. 

That day, the girl was having difficulties in school. When they met, Ruffin didn’t jump into action to fix the issues. Instead, she sat with the young woman and listened. The mentor knew that her Little Sister didn’t need an adult to solve her problems; she needed an adult to hear her solutions.

Ruffin has been listening—and pushing for positive social change—for a long time. It’s a form of civic engagement that she models from her family, including her mother, a preacher. This background has enabled Ruffin to integrate social advocacy into her personal and professional life. It advanced at Pitt where, as an urban studies major, she first observed that people in troubled circumstances and underserved neighborhoods often do not need answers from outsiders as much as they need others to recognize and support their agency.

That has been a major theme in her extensive community and leadership efforts, which have included working with colleges, churches, community groups, and social services to address violence, racial disparities, and the empowerment of youth, especially Black girls.

Outside of volunteering, Ruffin (A&S ’06) serves as senior leader for equity and inclusion at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, a job where she listens to, and empowers, people across greater Pittsburgh, especially those in the neighborhoods where she hopes to make a difference.

“It’s important,” she says, “to recognize that residents often hold the solutions.”


This article appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Pitt Magazine.