By James Wright
The Obama administration has become a part of history but its signature social initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” has continued in the District and Mayor Muriel Bowser has made mentorship a key component.
On Sept. 5, the city’s Office on Public Service and Volunteerism hosted the mayor’s “My Brother’s Keeper Summit and Volunteer Fair” at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest, where over 400 people listened to speakers and visited the booths of government agencies and nonprofit organizations that deal with the problems of young Black males.
Ayris T. Scales, chief service officer of the Office on Volunteerism and Partnerships, said she structured the one-day program in a deliberate manner.
“We wanted to show the public, private and nonprofits who are working to help young Black boys and men to succeed,” Scales said. “We have heard from some people who say that government has all of the answers and that is simply not true. Our volunteer fair has government programs such as The Mayor’s Commission on Fathers, Men and Boys and non-profits like Bread for the City and Horton’s Kids that help Black young men to be the best they can be.”
One panel featured D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, Police Chief Peter Newsham, Councilman Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Clinton Lacey, director of D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Services.
Ferebee said he mandates that educators go to the homes of students to meet their families and get to know the communities they live in.
“Home and school need to work together,” he said. “They need to talk to each other in order to help Black boys succeed in school.”
Ferebee also encouraged Black parents, especially fathers, to read to their children at an early age.
“We need to let our young Black boys know that it is OK to read,” he said.
Newsham said re-instituting the “Officer Friendly” program, in which police officers engage the people whom they protect, has become a priority of his.
“Young kids will be able to develop a relationship with the officers in their neighborhoods,” the chief said.
Newsham talked about the police cadet program at Anacostia High School that gives young people a pipeline to becoming a D.C. police officer.
McDuffie said Black boys and men are “suffering under government policies that have intentionally not benefited them.” He said businesses, large and small have challenges reaching out to Black males.
“Small businesses would like to reach out but don’t have the resources to do so,” the council member said. “Large corporations have the resources but lack the connections to communities where Black boys live.”
All of the speakers spoke about the need for more mentors for young Black males.
The summit presented Thomas Penny III, president of Donohoe Hospitality Services division, as a mentor and Arturo Evans as a mentee.
Penny said he met Evans several years ago at a school event and was impressed by him.
“I spoke at this school and, like I always do, I handed out my business card,” Penny said. “Arturo was the only one who called me and we developed a relationship. I introduced him to the hotel business and he has worked in it since.”
Arturo, with Penny’s encouragement, went to the prestigious William F. Harrah Hospitality Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and presently works at a District hotel as a front desk associate. Evans said Penny has made the difference in his life and considers him a role model.
Penny said mentorship “definitely helps young Black men.”
“Young Black men need to know that there are people who look like them succeeding and who do care about them,” he said. “I care about Arturo’s development as a man. I have a wife and three kids and my wife says I pay more attention to Arturo than to them. I am committed to seeing him succeed.”
This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.