Last week, African American young men from across YES Prep’s campuses filed into YES Prep Southside’s cafeteria. They were guided toward posters that asked when they feel smartest, what brotherhood means to them, and who supports them. In the background, quotes by W.E.B Dubois, President and First Lady Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, Nelson Mandela, and Marian Anderson flashed across the screen. The room was filled with the civil rights leaders’ voices too– projected across the space by large speakers. The young men greeted each other with handshakes and tried on t-shirts printed with We are the ones we’ve been waiting for -June Jordan. Not long afterward, Eldridge Gilbert, School Director of YES Prep North Forest took the stage and welcomed the students to the second annual Brotherhood Summit. “We come together to ensure that more black males graduate from YES Prep,” he told them. “To do this, we need to form a community.”
The Brotherhood Summit kicked off with a panel featuring Ore Owodunni, YES Prep Board Member and Senior Finance Manager at ConocoPhillips, Reverend Leslie Smith, founder of Change Happens!, Houston architect Antoine Bryant, Recy Benjamin Dunn, Vice President of Operations and Growth for YES Prep, and Jeremy Beard, YES Prep Head of Schools. A YES Prep North Forest student-moderator began the panel by asking why the summit was important. “We traditionally haven’t served a lot of black young men,” Dunn responded. “We need to come together as brothers so we can learn how to better serve more black kids.”
In an interview conducted by YES Prep North Forest teacher, Alan Walker, Gilbert further elaborated on the need for a Brotherhood Summit: “Our black boys are in danger. They’re not in a space where we can be 100% sure that, even in the most nurturing environments, they’re going to make it all the way through and have all their potential manifest.” Gilbert explained that black males were the most at-risk subpopulation at YES Prep, both in terms of persistence and academic performance.
The event included ample opportunities for the young men to meet and interact with community leaders, students from other campuses, and college mentors from TSU. During the panel, Bryant added that events like this were important because they provided models of success for young black men: “I want you to see that you can go to college and succeed professionally no matter where you come from.” The event also included opportunities for the young men to become mentors themselves for the 6th grade boys at YES Prep Southside.
When asked what the Brotherhood Summit meant to him and what he took away from it, one YES Prep North Forest student stated, “I learned what it means to be black, to be strong, and to lead.”