CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The program My Brother's Keeper Charlotte Mecklenburg has relaunched and leaders are saying it's no longer business as usual. The program started in Charlotte back in 2015.
The program addresses the needs of African American boys and young men and tries to remove barriers that get in the way of their success. Goals set back then were lofty and it has been slow going.
A team has been meeting for the past 20 months to come up with a plan to reboot the program.
The program has hired an executive director to carry out the initiatives. Don Thomas got the job. He says this is his calling.
“We have young men who are crying out essentially,” Thomas said. “There’s an African proverb that say that children will burn down the village just so they can feel the warmth, and so how do we come together to ensure that we are wrapping our arms around these young men.”
Thomas says there are about 60 local programs designed to help boys of color and young men succeed in Mecklenburg County. Despite those programs progress has been slow. Numbers show boys of color are still behind when it comes to reading scores and economic mobility.
“We have done programs for a long time,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of programs doing some outstanding work, but what we are trying to do is sustain transformation.”
Michael DeVaul is a strategy leader for My Brother’s Keeper CLT Mecklenburg. He says the plan calls for identifying 100 males - 50 in 5th grade and 50 in 8th grade. The boys will come from West Charlotte. That is considered one of the most challenged areas.
“All these boys will exceed their own expectations,” DeVaul said. “If we give them more access and opportunity.”
DeVaul believes the boys need to see more positive roles black male role models to let them know they can achieve greatness.
“Their story is really our story,” DeVaul said. “And what we got to do is figure out what advantages that we get over time - what access and opportunity did we get.”
The 100 boys will consist of a third with a GPA higher than a 3.0, another third will be boys with a GPA between a 2.0 and 3.0 and another third will have a GPA lower than a 2.0. DeVaul thinks the boys from different levels can benefit from each other.
“If we can just get them to cross fertilize,” DeVaul said. “They’ll help one another and we’ll be more of a support system.”
The relaunched program’s action statement is it will address and support policies and organizations that tackle persistent opportunity gaps and help to ensure that all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s boys and young men of color have the opportunity to achieve.
“That could be things that are happening at the county level,” DeVaul said. “Things that might be happening at the city level, things that could be happening at the school level.”
Leaders say this time the program will have young boys at the table to determine what’s the best why to tackle the problems they face daily.
“I think a lot of times we kind of create strategies top down,” Thomas said. “This is an opportunity for us to really engage these young men. What is it that you need. What are the challenges. Put some real data in front of these young men and allow them to wrestle with that data.”
The plan calls for fundraising and for men to volunteer to help make results happen sooner. Leaders say success will come in waves but believe it can happen. Leaders say this will be a 10- year plan.
“If we start to think about every young boy of color that’s born in Charlotte Mecklenburg,” Thomas said. “That they have everything they need to fulfill their purpose without organizational, institutional or systemic impediment - that’s a success.”
Thomas starts as executive director in March. Leaders will give him six months to organize and and to come up with the plan.
“The question is how do we love,” DeVaul said. “How do we give them a sense of belonging and we tell them in spite of that - we are with you.”
If you want to learn more about his reboot or volunteer for My Brother’s Keeper CLT Mecklenburg click here.