Alumni in Focus: Justin Fishman, BBA '04

Alumnus Justin Fishman, BBA ‘04, found his purpose through youth mentorship and giving back to his community.

September 6, 2023

Justin Fishman headshot

What is an “only-at-GW” moment you’ll never forget?

“Something that really stands out to me is that I was there for 9/11. It was really unique to be in D.C. during that time in history. I remember going to class and no one being there, cell phones not working, a lot of people were trying to convince me to leave D.C. It was really memorable being there for that moment in time which changed the course of so many things moving forward. 

“I think in some way my experience during 9/11 had some impact on me joining the military later in life. I’m currently a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves and was on active duty from 2019-2020 supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in the Middle East.”

Tell us about your current professional role and why it excites you.

“I’m the Vice President of Operations and Programming  for the KB Foundation, a group-based mentoring nonprofit focused on finding purpose through exposure for youth in the Philadelphia area. 

“I started on this career path as a volunteer by creating a financial literacy program for a nonprofit called Project Dad – it was an eight week bootcamp for second chance dads trying to get back on their feet. I wanted to continue to help people and put my energy into founding a summer camp in my neighborhood for South Philadelphia youth. Then, when I was deployed, I started thinking about how my next step could be a mentorship program. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and something I would have wanted for myself when I was 13 years old – just a bunch of good guys to look up to, be there for me, and show me some cool stuff.

“I started a mentor network with my wife once I returned home from overseas, teaching youth valuable life skills through mentorship. I reconnected with an old acquaintance of mine, Kirk Berry, for advice on the program.  Kirk was the founder of the KB Foundation which hosted a mentoring camp for boys. After working together, I knew this was my passion and something I had a lot of energy around. I ended up joining  the KB Foundation a couple years ago with the goal of growing our mission.

"The KB Foundation now has 9 distinct programs  mentoring over 170 youth (up from 2 programs when I joined). We have completed two cultural and educational trips to Africa, were highlighted by Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts as a nonprofit doing meaningful work in the city, and have built a KB network of mentors committed to passing knowledge and opening doors for our mentees to just shy of 70 individuals. This summer, we set up 22 kids with jobs to provide them with real work experience, all through this ecosystem that we’re creating. It’s incredible to see.”

Why do you find this work so exciting and impactful?

“I feel like I have a special energy around this because I know it’s my purpose. This is what I’m supposed to do. There’s never enough time to get everything done in a day, there’s always more to do, but since I have such energy around it, it doesn’t feel like work. We try to inspire the same in our young people – helping them find what gives them energy and purpose. 

“For example, we had one 12 year old mentee who was really interested in music. We were able to set him up with music lessons from DJs, got him a starting set and computer, and he’s now done a few gigs on his own. It’s really impressive to see and be a part of when someone pursues their passion.”

If you were to offer a piece of advice to someone seeking to pursue your field of work, what would you say to them?

“I would encourage people to go out and find what gives them energy. You should head towards that and take some risks. Presumably, when you are just finishing college, that is a great time to take some risks and see where it gets you. It may take a few years to gain momentum and steam, but it’s worth it. Focus on what drives you.”

Anything else you’d like to add or share?

“Everything I do now is about exposure to life – showing kids something new. Going to a school like GW in D.C. really provides that opportunity for a lot of people. Given its location, it’s different from going to a big state school and has certainly had an influence on me as far as my alignment with the mission of exposure to seeing new things. Being in D.C. definitely helped foster that belief in what I do now.”