Baltimore Brothers has flipped the script and graduated nearly 50 at-risk young men from their manhood training program. Before a crowd of nearly 300 family, friends and supporters, the graduates stood tall and reflected on their 47-week commitment to change their lives.
“This graduation was the best day for Baltimore Brothers,” Executive Director Andrew Muhammad told The Final Call. “We worked hard to celebrate the young Black men completing the program. They’ve been with us for almost a year of programming, activities and training. This is an after-school program, and they stayed the entire time. That was the blessing. They didn’t have to come; they came on their own.”
In a city that frequently reports bad news about young Blacks, this was also an event worthy of the daily news.
“I spoke to several news media outlets,” Mr. Muhammad said. “They told me they would come. However, no one came. But, when the young men in the city get shot or something else bad happens, the media blows my phone up for an interview or a statement. They want to know our thoughts on what happened.”
Baltimore Brothers is a community service program that identifies at-risk males between the ages of 11 and 17. Once identified and their parents agree to enroll them in the program, the youth come to the program either on their own or are picked up in program vans from housing projects where the average income, according to Mr. Muhammad, is $13,000 a year.
They participate in empowerment classes that focus on social and emotional skills, how to secure housing, legal matters, employment, financial wellness, education, and life skills.
After empowerment, the group focuses on engagement. The youth learn street navigation and engage in pro-social activities, mentoring, aggression replacement training and they receive case management. Baltimore Brothers is also concerned about the mental health of their participants. The program offers trauma-informed treatment, outpatient psychiatric care and sex-based crimes treatment.
The program has several sponsors, including the Anne E. Casey Foundation, the Family League, the Booker T. Washington Middle School, and the Catherine’s Family and Youth Services (CFYS). Valerie Matthews is the program co-founder and executive director of CFYS.
“We’ve been working with the Baltimore Brothers for about four years. We’ve been working together since the pandemic, doing things like providing food boxes to the community. Baltimore Brothers is a way to bridge the gap between the young men and the old heads, to keep them grounded, provide mentorship and manhood training,” she told The Final Call.
“The graduation was beautiful. It truly was a great opportunity to celebrate the young men and all their hard work. We celebrated their commitment to being a part of that program for the past year. Our boys have been in the program for the past two years. This was the first time that they were celebrated and honored. The graduation brought their parents together for the first time in the same room, so that was a blessing as well. It was a phenomenal event.”
The graduation was held May 31 and featured special messages by Councilman Robert Stokes, Nation of Islam Student Imam Abdul Salaam Muhammad and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.
Graduate Karie Hudgins told The Final Call, “I liked everything that evening, the gifts they gave us and what they told us in their speeches, especially the mayor. I loved that the mayor came.”
Fourteen-year-old Keishawn Chambers was one of the graduates. He told The Final Call, “We do a lot of fun stuff, and the program teaches us things to do when we get older. We travel all over the city cleaning up the communities and more. We also help giving out food to the communities.”
“The graduation was fun. I got money, presents and more. The food was good too. I would recommend this program to other kids. When I get older and have kids, if the program is still going on, I’ll probably put my kids in it too,” he said.
Keishawn’s mom, Christiana Ash, was excited about the program when she heard about it. “The men are really good mentors. They are men with a lot of wisdom to give to these young men. They’re teenagers, young men, and the Baltimore Brothers show them a better way of living, a better outlook on life,” she said.
What would Keishawn be doing without this program?
“Falling victim to negativity and thinking it’s cool to be rough and in the streets,” his mother said. “He might also choose the wrong friends. I want other parents to know they should want their children being taught the things that the Baltimore Brothers are teaching.”
For more information, visit: www.baltimorebrothers.org