Ready for Success: My Brother’s Keeper and the 2015 Back-to-School Bus Tour

Image 1 - Bus Tour Map

During the U.S. Department of Education’s Back-to-School Bus Tour, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships hosted “My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) Roundtable Discussions in three cities:  Louisville, KY; Indianapolis, IN; and Pittsburgh, PA.  As one of the MBK staff leads in our office, I had the opportunity to facilitate the Louisville discussion with youth from some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods. The roundtable was held at Minor Daniels Academy, a combined restorative pathways middle and high school in the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) System. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and JCPS Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens also participated in the conversation.

During the roundtable discussion, students talked about their aspirations, the daily challenges they face, and the structural and systemic obstacles they perceive as part of their environment. What I found to be peculiar about the discussion was how many of the youth believe that success is best achieved by helping themselves. Throughout their lives, the students felt disconnected from the Louisville community as a whole. They did not know that there were members of the community who were actually interested in providing them assistance. When one youth explained that “shoe game” – how an individual’s worth is defined based upon the substance of his or her appearance – serves as one of the most prevalent problems in their communities, another concluded that as poor African Americans, students could not solve these problems alone.  However, knowing that there were other youth in their communities who had more resources, better educational opportunities, and greater communal support, they wondered if the community had any desire to help them in addressing their own needs.

Despite these expressed challenges, the students chose to “accept finite disappointment while still clinging to hope.” When asked if they had the opportunity to speak to President Obama about improving their schools and communities, the students responded with dignity. One student specified she would ask the President to alter the minimum working age while another stated he would like the President to create programs to provide youth a sense of purpose and eliminate crime within their communities.

The voices of the students underline why MBK is vital to communities. During the conversation, these students learned that their community was listening and preparing to support them as they moved toward their life goals. The MBK initiative helps youth understand that “success is not measured by your stumbles, but by your many strides.  If you can conceive it in your minds and believe it in your hearts, you can achieve it with your hands.”

Following my experiences at the roundtable discussion, I feel confident that the work Louisville is accomplishing will answer the needs of its students and continue to epitomize what MBK is all about – helping to ensure high student achievement and success for all youth, despite their circumstances.   If we continue to incorporate the voices of our youth into the efforts of the 200 communities committed to improving the life outcomes of youth through MBK, I have no doubt it will make our nation more competitive globally and a more equitable place to live.

“…We were founded on the idea everybody should have an equal opportunity to succeed. No matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, you can make it. That’s an essential promise of America. Where you start should not determine where you end up.” – President Barack Obama

CFBNP Participates in Module Madness

“My dream is to become the Athletic Director at the University of Alabama one day.  I have applied to the University of Alabama and am determined to get there.  I know that it may be difficult to make that happen and there will many temptations, but this is my goal and I believe I can achieve it.”

The previous statement serves as one of the many aspirations spoken by local students to U.S. Department of Education (ED) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) staff during a recent visit to Bowie, MD.  Recently, CFBNP staff had the opportunity to lead a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) workshop for youth from the Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia regions as a part of Jack and Jill of America’s (Prince George’s County Chapter) 2015 Module Madness event.  Module Madness is an annual youth development initiative divided into several different workshop components (called modules) that focus on youth leadership and financial literacy.  CFBNP staff addressed two of these modules – self-discipline and life skills – by coaching and working with teen facilitators to lead breakout sessions for over 65 students ranging from the 3rd to the 12th grade.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

The breakout sessions for the MBK workshop ranged from CFBNP staff helping 11th-12th students to brainstorm and create career roadmaps that explain in detail the steps they should take to achieve their career passions to engaging 3rd-5th grade students on what makes them feel powerful and how they can work to create positive change in their schools and communities.  Additionally, all students shared remarks in a final session entitled “The Reflection in a Mirror,” where youth discussed 1) how society often perceives them based upon their ethnic background and 2) the challenges they can individually and collectively overcome to succeed in life.

The students were very insightful, genuine, and self-reflective as they participated in the different sessions. For example, when asked to examine Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” one student replied that such a perspective can be applied to all areas of our lives, and we should not let anyone negatively influence how we perceive ourselves.  Additionally, when students were asked how they could work to transform any personal weaknesses into strengths, one male courageously admitted that that though he often has little patience with family and peers, he plans to communicate more effectively with them to mitigate his frustrations and get along better with others.

Overall, the workshop served as one of the many ways that the ED CFBNP participates in White House and ED Initiatives to celebrate the efforts of schools, families, and community organizations to improve the life outcomes of youth, and how the team works with these groups to create a culture of educational excellence within our society.  Such efforts allow us to carry out our mission to help ensure that all youth, especially those who are most vulnerable, have the opportunity to pursue their career dreams and aspirations by receiving a sound education and the support of a caring community.


Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.