American newscaster David Brinkley once said that, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at him.”
I heard this David Brinkley quote spoken to a group of young men last month who were gathered for a new program in the Kent School District designed to empower, uplift, and inspire young men of color. Men on the Move (MotM) is a brotherhood that cultivates leaders at the middle and high school level in low-income communities. The program’s leaders used this quote to show young men how they can turn obstacles (or “bricks”) into strengths.
King J.C. is one of the student leaders in the program. His philosophy is simple, “You have to always put your best foot forward and live everyday like it’s your last.” For many of the young men of color in historically underserved communities, the next 24 hours is uncertain. For them, like King suggested, making each day count is the key to cultivating the success we all hope to have in the long run. The aim of MotM is to embed in these students’ minds the responsibilities they have as leaders of the next generation of great thinkers, teachers and doctors so that they can make positive decisions and lead by example.
I recently attended a conference called Empowering Black Students to Thrive hosted by the Black Education Strategy Roundtable in Des Moines, WA. One of the points that was reiterated throughout the conference was serving the “whole child,” which is one of the leading reasons Men on the Move was brought to Washington. This program was modeled after a similar one that was created in Oakland, California to address the lack of engagement and educational attainment among young men of color. These were young men that were never told how valuable and powerful they were. They didn’t necessarily feel connected to the curriculum and exposed to influential leaders from their history with whom they could identify. In response, a program was created to educate these young men about their history and empower them to become influential leaders. They would then return to their schools with a new perspective and mindset about how they can achieve.
The Kent School District is in an area of South King County where 70% of the students are students of color. Of this 70%, 56% are low income. A report released this week by the Road Map Project (a collection of schools in South Seattle and South King County working to drive dramatic improvement in student achievement) surveyed black students in the area and asked what they needed to succeed. The students want teachers who can identify with them, culturally relevant lessons, and an environment that values autonomy and emphasizes learning. Men on the Move addresses these challenges and others that public schools in King County and across the state are having with catering to the “whole child,” particularly for students of color. I remember my experience of becoming socially aware of my position in society and the positive impact that learning from influential leaders in history and my community had on my education.
Stand for Children Washington has partnered with the Wisdom Council, a diverse group of influential men of color from the community, to develop inspiring seminars and curriculum to help pave the way for young men of color who want a chance at a better life. For those who dream of college and have a desire to learn, this program ensures that they are ready and equipped with the right tools for success, which we at Stand for Children advocate for as part of our mission. The focus is largely on positive messaging and knowledge through equitable access to high quality academic, social, and applied learning opportunities within schools and communities.
When asked what quote he lives by, Javaughn W, another leader in the program, believes that “If you want the ball, you have to find a way to get the ball in your hands.” In other words, the young men in this program understand the importance of going after what they want by any means necessary and for many of them, they want to go to college. Through mentoring and networking opportunities, Men on the Move helps connect and guide these young men in the direction of their dreams.
In places like Kent, programs like Men on the Move make all the difference for underserved communities. Jahvonta J said that one challenge or “brick” that has been thrown at him is not being pushed to succeed. His discipline, courage, and focus are what is going to make his own dream of playing basketball in college or even in the NBA someday a reality. There’s no doubt in my mind that he has the potential to go all the way. Like many of the young men in this program, he understands that there is nothing in the world he cannot do if he keeps hoping for the best and using any doubt that others may throw his way as bricks to build a stronger foundation.
These are just a few examples of the next generation of leaders in Men on the Move. So, to our future surgeons, NBA players, authors, I hope you will keep in mind the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”