Quietly sitting at the front of the room were Lonnie Spearman, Qualib Smith, and Nicholas Patterson. The three young men are NFA students, but not only that, they are My Brother’s Keeper fellows.
My Brother’s Keeper is a national initiative established by President Barack Obama in 2014. The focus of the initiative is to find ways to close and eliminate the opportunity gaps faced by young men of color. Two years ago, the Newburgh Enlarged City School District was one of the many districts to take on the initiative.
The district hosted its official relaunch of My Brother’s Keeper last Wednesday at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center. This relaunch was a way for the district to invite the community to engage in its efforts to decrease the opportunity gap for young men of color.
Patterson, a 16-year-old NFA senior and football player, feels fortunate to have grown up with a stable and loving family. But he’s grateful for the opportunities that My Brother’s Keeper has brought him.
Patterson believes that My Brother’s Keeper taught him awareness over the lives of others. “I’ve been pretty lucky in my life you know,” said Patterson. “I don’t have it as bad as other people, but really seeing where other people come from and how everyone can get together; It really made me look at life differently.”
In many ways Patterson believes My Brother’s Keeper has helped improve the lives of his peers from less fortunate backgrounds. He believes that often times in Newburgh, young men of color run into barriers when it comes to accessing a better life.
“Hearing all these kids’ stories about they don’t really have a father figure or a mother figure, or they’re battling this and that,” said Patterson. “It’s crazy thinking that you’re the same age as me and I’m doing this and you’re doing that.”
“The concept of education equity goes beyond simple equality,” said Dr. Pedro Ramon, the assistant superintendent and chief equity officer of the school district. Ramon presented an overview of My Brother’s Keeper and its main strategy.
“Our district continues to be committed to making sure all students succeed and thrive in school,” said Ramon. “No matter where they are, where they live and where they come from.”
“It is too often across America, boys of color, their misbehavior is seen as misbehavior, which they are ultimately punished for,” said David Banks, CEO of The Eagle Academy Foundation.
Drawing from the example of his brother, Philip, Banks explained that equal effort needs to be put into troubled young men of color. Growing up, Philip was always viewed as less motivated and the trouble maker. Eventually, he was put in a special education program and given medication because he was seen as “too damn hyper.”
Despite Philip’s struggles, he ultimately went on to become the highest-ranking uniformed officer with the New York Police Department.
“It was never about the kids,” said Banks. “It’s about us the adults. What’s the energy we bring? What’s the mindset we bring?”
For Mayor Torrance Harvey, the event was significant at a personal level. In life Harvey has experienced struggle more than once.
“My father decided to leave when I was 19,” said Harvey. “Now, I was the youngest of eight. Twin brother was number seven. When my father left home when I was 19 years of age, he told me, ‘your mother’s your best girlfriend, remember all the lessons I taught you.’”
Despite eventually taking his father back, Harvey spent a good amount of his life without him. Many young men of color grow up in single parent households, and sometimes lacking the stability of two parents can result in pain and destruction.
“I said, ‘dad, I’m only 19. Man, how am I gonna do that,’” said Harvey. “I moved to this city homeless at 19: me, my mother, and my siblings.” Still through all of it, Harvey managed to receive a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters Degree. Harvey managed to live through his struggles and become an NFA history teacher and the mayor of the city.
Looking at Spearman, Smith and Patterson, “To the young men sitting before us, you are our most prized possession,” said Harvey.
The relaunch is the refreshing of a young program that has done so much to improve a community that has often been pushed aside. With this relaunch, the district hopes to expand chapters to every school and strengthen community efforts to help young men of color.