York City launches My Brother's Keeper program


Mayor Kim Bracey and a community organizer on Saturday hosted about 60 community members for The Brother's Brunch, a collaborative brainstorming session following the mayor's commitment to the My Brother's Keeper Community Challenge.

Ministers, students, volunteers, business owners, and school and city officials attended, and organizers were left with the makings of an action plan by the end of the meeting.

My Brother's Keeper is President Barack Obama's initiative to close opportunity gaps for youth of color; York is the latest of about 200 communities to accept the challenge.

The program is structured around six goals: that all youth enter school ready to learn; that all youth are reading at grade level by third grade; that all youth graduate high school; that all youth complete postsecondary education or training; that all youth enter the workforce; and that all youth are safe from violence.

Wisdom present: Community organizer Jamiel Alexander said the program's goal is to provide a framework around which community members can come together to work within locally driven, place-based and evidence-based strategies to form a "coherent cradle-to-college-or- career path" for youth, regardless of their circumstances of birth.

Alexander, a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, addressed the group, most of whom were black men.

"I feel the jitters," he said. "This is a historic moment. Wisdom is in the room."

After a meal, introductions and a showing of "Rise," a documentary about the initiative, participants got down to work. They split up into six groups, each set to tackle a different goal.

Addressing the goal to have youth successfully enter the workforce were Tamar Morales, Alexander's nephew who recently moved to York; Aaron Williams, CEO of Smash Entertainment; Emory Woodyard, a student in the York City School District; Jonathan Branam of the Cignature Resource Group; and Rob Grant, a graduate of YouthBuild and Alexander's friend and former mentee.

They discussed the importance of networking: "You don't know who's hiring if you're not connected," said Williams.

Counselors and role models would help youth to succeed, they said.

They also stressed the need for shop class in high schools and for career readiness and job training programs.

Kids need to learn how to write resumes and how to be successful in job interviews, they said.

Staying safe: The group addressing keeping youth safe from violence stressed the importance of schools and churches in children's lives and brought up the idea of restorative justice — helping children who misbehave and keeping them engaged rather than giving them out-of-school suspensions that cause them to miss class.

On the idea of keeping youth engaged, Eric Holmes, superintendent of York City School District, said the district runs an after-school program that includes tutoring, recreational activities and a hot meal.

"Last year we had 800-900 kids participate. This year, we'd like to double that," he said.

Group participants said not all youth are graduating from high school because of factors including peer pressure, a stressful home life, lack of caring by teachers and lack of life skills.

At the next meeting, slated for Nov. 21, community members will review the action plan that was drafted in the wake of Saturday's session. The location of that meeting is still uncertain.

Bracey said she's unsure whether policy changes are in store.

"Often, so much can be done at the grass-roots level," she said.

Policy changes would need to be backed up by financial support, and government can't be the solution to everything, she added.

"Some of these changes are driven by society," she said.