MBK-The Orlando Times

The Orlando Times


Sanford Initiates ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ To Help Young Men Of Color


(Left to right): Sylvester Wynn, Rose Washington, Thelisha Thomas, Charles Wright, Eddie Cochran, Fritz Voltaire

SANFORD - According to a report by the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force in 2014, over 23 percent of Hispanic & Latino Americans, 25 percent of Black Americans, and 27 percent of American Indian & Alaskan Native Americans are currently living in poverty, compared to only 11 percent of white Americans.

My Brother’s Keeper is an initiative created by President Barack Obama in February of 2014 to address these disparities. When this initiative was placed into action, the former President challenged the communities of the nation to adopt six milestones and to locally improve the outcomes for their boys and young men of color.

These six milestones are: Getting a Healthy Start and Entering School Ready to Learn, Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade, Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career, Completing Postsecondary Education or Training, Successfully Entering the Workforce, and Keeping Kids on Track and Giving Them Second Chances.

A local Sanford Clergyman, Pastor Lowman Oliver and a local businessman, John Wright following the My Brother’s Keeper initiative contacted the City of Sanford, expressing their concerns of the dropout rates of youth of color and their continued over-representation in the criminal justice system.

The City researched the initiative and appointed Andrew Thomas, the Community Relations and Neighborhood Engagement Director, to develop an exploratory committee into My Brother’s Keeper. This committee evolved into the Sanford-Future Claimers (SFC). On March 23, 2015, the City of Sanford approved a resolution to become a "My Brother’s Keeper Community". One month later, on April 18, 2015, the official launch of this initiative was unveiled at a Community Summit.

While they have maintained activities over the past for four years they did not have an official MBK advisory committee responsible for overseeing the implementation of activities under the program until now. The MBK advisory committee is appointed by the city commission, each of the seven members have two year terms.

The current members are: Eddie Cochran, Pastor Lowman Oliver (St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church), Thelisha Thomas (Healthy Start Coalition-Seminole), Fritz Voltaire, Rose Washington (Seminole County Branch NAACP), Charles Wright, and Sylvester Wynn.

“The mission of the initiative was to increase mentorship for young men of color and decrease the disparities that exist. In order to accomplish that each of these regions developed their own local action plan,” said Eddie Cochran, MBK Chairman. “Here in the city of Sanford, the mission is to create a type of environment where we are looking at the holistic individual and try to develop in four categories specifically those areas are: the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, and the social.”

I am encouraged by the team we have in place, and also the additional liaisons that we will create and mentors we identify to help these kids to reach their full potential,” he added.

Sanford, Florida has a rich history in the Black community. Originally settled by the Seminole Indians, General Henry S. Sanford, a Connecticut lawyer, was recognized as the founding father. Georgetown was the location of the first African American public school in the county and Goldsboro is one of the oldest African American-founded communities in the United States.

“When we took a look at what the national research was saying, we realized that those numbers weren’t that different from what we were experience in the city of Sanford,” said Andrew Thomas, MBK Director. “Although we are in one of the highest rated school districts in the country, we are still seeing that young men of color are going through the same disparities as others around the country. They aren’t graduating on time, there is a drop-off factor going from junior high to senior high, we don’t have the number going to college.”

Currently, Sanford District 2 has a population of 11,607 residents, the lowest house household median income range, and the highest population of people of color: 53.5% Black or African American and 19% Hispanic. While Seminole High was awarded the Silver ranking in 2015 by US News & World Report, the percent of disadvantaged students who were determined proficient was 46.5%, whereas the proficiency of nondisadvantaged students was 74.5%.

“I think [MBK is important] because we have a not so perfect history. What got us international attention was Trayvon Martin,” said Thelisha Thomas, MBK Board Member. “The biggest thing on the horizon for us right now is the mentorship program. We want this to continue on for all the young Black and brown men to reap the benefits of this initiative.”

Each of the board members has developed their own networking system of colleagues, friends, and family to act as mentors. They are establishing criteria of high integrity to ensure the safety of mentees, so there is a screening process that must take place.

As for mentees, they not only want to capture students who are doing great in school but also students who aren’t doing so great, that need the additional support, guidance, and tutoring. The focus area is within the Sanford region however they don’t want to necessarily limit it to that.

“[I think it’s important to have] an organization that would give our young men an opportunity to have different things they can excel in that they possibly wouldn’t have been able to do without the program itself,” said Sanford District 2 Commissioner Terry Wiggins.

The advisory board holds public meetings the first Wednesday of every month from 4pm-6pm at City Hall in downtown Sanford. The public is welcome to attend. They are currently working on developing community events though the initiative; the City of Sanford website will soon have an upcoming events page.

For more information on My Brother’s Keeper visit www.sanfordfl.gov or contact Andrew Thomas via email at andrew.thomas@sanfordfl.gov or call (407) 688-5132. If you are interested in getting involved with the mentoring program you can call 321-262-3284, or e-mail Britt Henderson at Britt.Henderson@sanfordfl.gov.

“I’m working hand-in-hand with Mr. Thomas and the board to make sure I can assist in any way I can,” said Commissioner Wiggins. “I am not doing this for me, I am doing it for our citizens. To be able to give the youth an opportunity to have something great.”