My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is an initiative was launched in 2015 under the Obama Foundation. This initiative focuses on building safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color where they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.

Since its launch, several communities across the United States have joined the alliance to reduce youth violence, grow effective mentorship programs, and ultimately improve the lives of young boys and men. The City of Pine Bluff has now joined by forming the My Brothers and Sisters Keeper program.

The kick-off for this mentorship program was Monday night at Pine Bluff Convention Center. Students from area schools, members of the clergy community, representatives from non-profit organizations and city leaders were present to brainstorm and the start the conversation of “how can we better serve our youth and promote summer programs that will be happening throughout the city this summer.

To answer this question, the room was divided into four groups with each group representing one of the six milestones that are a part of the strategy to effectively make an impact within the program. The six milestones include: entering school healthy and ready to learn, reading at grade level by third grade, graduating from high school ready for college and career, completing postsecondary education or credentialing, successfully connecting the economy, reducing and providing a second chance.

“I spent 38 years working in education and the vast majority of my years were in Pine Bluff in the Pine Bluff School District,” Mayor Shirley Washington said. “Every day I think about my former students. I think about how bright and talented they were, but also how many barriers they faced when they attempted to live up to their God given potential. I see educators, students and family here tonight and I can imagine you can relate to my feelings. Over the last two years as Mayor, I am proud that we have been able to leverage our City’s resources to support our young people and that’s our goal as we move forward. As we rebuild this city, it is not for those of my generation but for the future.”

Before dividing the room into groups, the mayor’s youth council was asked, “What can adults do to help you succeed and put youth at the center of our community?”

Christopher Blunt Jr, a senior at Pine Bluff High School and mayor of the youth council answered, “One thing I try to speak on a lot is older people try to go back in time and say ‘back in the day we did this or that’ but we’re in a totally different generation and you guys have to understand that we want find out some things on our own, and when things happen and we have issues, just be there by our side, because I was raised in a home where we believed with God, anything is possible.”

Each of the four groups was directed by a facilitator that works in the sector that was being represented. The first group was young at heart. The purpose of this group was to address education, activities for the youth, city clean-ups and crime prevention. This group fell under the framework of milestone four, which addressed completing postsecondary education and credentialing. In Portland, Oregon, they created a youth council or community advisory group to provide insights on increasing postsecondary completion.

The second group was non-profits and city agencies facilitated by Tiffany Copeland and Samuel Glover, director of parks and recreation. This group discussed collaboration between non-profit organizations and ways to better market the services that are available to the youth.

The third group was empowering the youth through service. This group discussed ways to get the youth engaged in community offered services. The fourth group was advocating for the youth. This group was facilitated by Pine Bluff Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant. They discussed ways to get the community involved in community policing and reducing violence.

Pine Bluff My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper initiative is being modeled after the San Francisco Alliance for My Brother’s & Sister’s Keeper initiative. Although San Francisco has a larger population that will yield a greater number of community partners, My Brother’s Keeper has outlined strategies in place for cities that have limited capacity so that those cities can implement My Brother’s Keeper plans.

“This initiative is called my brothers keeper and we’re adding my sister’s keeper here in Pine Bluff because we can not leave out all of the talented and dedicated women who serve youth in our community every day,” Washington said.

Washington said when she heard about the My Brother’s Keeper conference in San Francisco in February, she knew it was something that would be beneficial to the youth in Pine Bluff. She said she sent Samuel Glover, Director of Parks and Recreation along with members of her team to bring the information back, disseminate it and help facilitate the roll out of the initiative.

In April the My brother’s keeper alliance launched a national competition to identify and invest in communities that are making progress in making a substantial improvement to the lives of boys and young men of color. Nine organizations received $50,000 in funding to aid in the piloting and preliminary implementation of their work. Those communities are described as national seed communities. There were twenty-six organizations that were considered but did not receive funding. Those organizations are listed on my brother’s keeper alliance’s website as communities to watch. My Brother’s & Sister’s Keeper in San Francisco is among the 26.