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Meet Jerron Hawkins. He’s a young man I got to know when he was a White House mentee in 2014, and he’s one of the hundreds of people coming to Oakland this week for MBK Rising!, a nationwide gathering of community members and partners that represent the My Brother’s Keeper movement. We’re bringing these groups together to celebrate five years of progress on behalf of boys and young men of color—and to set our sights on the road ahead. Since we started My Brother’s Keeper five years ago, one of the things we’ve seen consistently is the power of mentoring as a tool to help young people address the challenges they face and see the opportunities in front of them. Mentoring just works. Today, I’m turning my Instagram account over to Jerron to tell you a little about his experience with mentorship. His story shows us what’s possible when we invest in our young people and show them we believe in their promise. It’s the kind of story we should hear more often—the kind we’ll hear a lot of in Oakland this week. It’s the kind story that gives me hope. “At the beginning of high school, I felt like I wasn’t operating with purpose. I wasn’t helping anyone. I was selected to be a member of my principal’s student leadership team and I thought ‘Why me? I don’t see myself like this.’ But in senior year, I found AMATE—African American Males Aspiring to Excel—a mentoring program for young men of color. What was so powerful to me about the group was the vulnerability. As guys, we were used to not talking about our problems. We bottled it all up and called it pride. So to be in this group of young men, sharing their feelings and being vulnerable with each other, was life-changing for me.”—Jerron Hawkins, 21, participant at #MBKRising, Washington D.C. (1/3)
Five years ago, I launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative calling on all Americans to take action on behalf our nation’s boys and young men of color. It was a call to make sure every child felt valued, safe, and supported by their community—a call to help these young men in particular see hope and opportunity in their future. We’ve come a long way in those five years. Today, as part of the @ObamaFoundation, the @MBK_Alliance consists of nearly 250 communities working to break down barriers that too often leave boys and young men of color at a disadvantage. And tomorrow in Oakland, I’ll join the My Brother’s Keeper community to mark the progress we’ve made and chart the course ahead at a celebration we’re calling MBK Rising! In the lead-up to the event, and in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share a nonfiction reading list that can help to provide some essential context about the challenges that many people of color face every day. From modern memoirs to cornerstones of the American narrative, these works can help us better understand our country’s past and our evolving, persistent struggles with race—and they can be fuel on our journey toward a more fair and just future for all of our sons and daughters. They certainly are for me. I hope you’ll take some time to read some of these books, letters, and articles. And tomorrow, I hope you’ll follow along with MBK Rising! at The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson A Stone of Hope: A Memoir by Jim St. Germain with Jon Sternfeld The Upshot from The New York Times: Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin The Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
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