My Brother’s Keeper becomes a force in North Carolina
The MBK summit united 10 communities in the state
Seven young men ranging from ages 13 to 20 sat in front of a room filled with North Carolina community leaders, United Way staffers and White House officials at the United Way of Greater Greensboro to discuss ways communities can come together to help young men and boys of color become successful members of society.
The young men spent 2 1/2 hours brainstorming ways to make their communities better, as well as assuming leadership roles to better their state before sharing their ideas with the audience.
It was the first time in which members of the My Brother’s Keeper’s (MBK) 10 communities in North Carolina came together for a discussion of this sort.
“I thought these young men were fantastic today,” said Blair Taylor, CEO of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. “They are a reminder of the talent that we have in this country that we have to figure out how to channel that talent into the opportunities that exist in this country and that’s part of what My Brother’s Keeper is all about. Some of these young men had talked about the fact that they had mentors intervene in their lives at a relatively early stage. They are now on a pathway to opening up the opportunity and potential for their lives. What we have to do is support them and, most importantly, infuse in them the desire to go back and want to bring somebody else along.”
My Brother’s Keeper is a White House initiative created in 2014 to “address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.” The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance was created the following year to continue the MBK mission and create long-lasting change for young men and boys of color.
Bryant Cameron Webb, a physician and White House Fellow, is so dedicated to the initiative that he has taken a year off from his regular occupation, hoping to spark change and motivate the young men and boys who participate in the program.
“I want to do something very powerful and meaningful, and I can’t imagine any other work more powerful than this,” Webb said. “It’s amazing because you go into that kind of experience expecting kids to be reserved and not have much to say, but they had such developed and thoughtful concepts about the issues facing their communities and they had just such deeply resonant perspectives on their own experiences that I was so glad we had this extra opportunity to put them in front of everybody.”
One of the positive outcomes of the day’s discussion is nearly all of the young men in attendance have had mentors beginning at a young age. In a surprising twist, most of the young men’s mentors were women. Although it doesn’t pose a problem, Taylor does hope to see men and women stepping up and reaching out to help young men.
“We’ve got to figure out how to get more men, particularly men of color but perhaps not exclusively, more men into the lives of these young men so that they can see a role model who is a man,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing wrong with females who are mentors, but there needs to be a mix of men and women and most of these young men said they have female mentors.”
Topics that seemed to hold the most weight for the young men were policing, education and mentorship. When asked if they were interested in becoming members of law enforcement, not a single hand was raised. Many of the young men expressed their fear of the stigma surrounding law enforcement, which has increased dramatically in the wake of recent police-community tensions.
Jeffery Campbell, a 20-year-old junior marketing major at University of North Carolina-Charlotte, described the tragic events of police brutality and gun violence that have recently occurred as eye-opening experiences. The death of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old man who was shot and killed in Charlotte last month, sparked riots that hit close to home for Campbell.
“You don’t realize how serious a situation is until it happens in your backyard, so for the riots to be happening within walking distance to campus, that was a really big eye-opening experience. You got to see the true personalities of some of the people you go to school with throughout that situation. You got to see who you were really surrounded by and how they handle the situation. I feel like the biggest thing is we have to work to build trust with police officers and in my opinion, I think it starts with the police officers, because trust is so disconnected at this point, it’s going to be hard for us as African-Americans to reach out to them first. If they were to reach out to us first, we have to accept the reach-out and work to build that trust again.”
The discussion surrounding police struck Taylor as a moment that MBK can use to remind the young men that change must start with them.
“Their critiques of that divide, law enforcement and communities, are all spot-on, so how do we start to change the image of that job from what they may perceive as somebody who’s not really part of the community and is a ‘disruptor’ to somebody who is actually a problem-solver in the community and a job that they aspire to having?” Taylor said. “That’s a leadership position that we absolutely need boys and men of color in across the country … if we don’t get more boys and men of color into law enforcement, it’s going to be very hard to change the paradigm of law enforcement. I want to think a little more about that and work with them and others about how do we start to change that paradigm so that law enforcement job becomes more interesting and appealing to them.”
Although Taylor hopes to do much more with the program in the future, he believes panel discussions like these are a step in the right direction not only for leaders, but the young men as well.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled by those young men,” Taylor said. “They give you energy. They make you realize what you’re doing this work for. They’ve fought and overcome things that frankly, in some cases, would knock adults off their feet and yet they’re still standing. They’re still fighting. They’re still positive, and they’re still contributing. Even to come out here and be a part of this is still contributing.”