Before his presidency came to an end, former President Barack Obama issued the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge. In this extension of his White House initiative, Obama made a call to action for cities and communities to come together and create programs which would help young people, particularly young men of color, reach their fullest potential.
Just over a year later, New Rochelle became one of the first regions in New York State to accept President Obama’s challenge. MBKNewRo, an initiative of the City of New Rochelle and the city’s School District, has put forth a robust Action Plan to help the young men and women of New Rochelle have every opportunity to succeed in life.
City Council Member Jared Rice (pictured below, right) and New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson (pictured below, left) spoke with BET News about the importance of their program and several of the exciting events MBKNewRo has to offer.
For many non-locals, the community of New Rochelle is often mischaracterized as a city with no major disparities. Even Principal Richardson, a New York native, admitted he had misconceptions about the area due to his background of teaching in Brooklyn.
“I thought people in New Rochelle didn’t have any problems,” Richardson told BET. “What I come to find is that the diversity within the Black and Latino communities in New Rochelle represents the country. The socio-economic gaps you see in communities of color in the country are the same you see in New Rochelle.”
Councilman Rice explained the size of the Black community in New Rochelle allows them to focus their energy on a small pool.
“It’s small enough for us to get our hands around the different problems that we see and try to come up with a solution,” Rice said of the Black population in New Rochelle. This can be a model for other communities, some of the successes we’ve had, because it’s such a small community, we have tremendous resources at our disposal.”
The success of MBKNewRo comes from the events and programs which have been made available to the young people in the area. Most recently, they launched "Take a Student Ambassador to Work Day" and "Community Reads."
The “Community Reads” program — aimed at getting New Rochelle reading the same book at the same time — was introduced by the non-profit group My Brother’s Keeper in partnership with the library and City of New Rochelle to foster reading in the Westchester city.
The city has also partnered with local organization for “Take a Student Ambassador to Work Day.”
“For take an ambassador to work day, we partnered with organizations, law firms, etc. to give kids the opportunity to explore different careers and professions. Some said it changed their life,” said Rice.
Overall, MBKNewRo has seen a large amount of positive changes occur in the community as a result of their dedication to making sure everyone receives and education and is prepared for college and/or job placement.
Here are a few milestone achievements from the program, provided by MBKNewRo:
* Principal Richardson along with teachers and administrators at New Rochelle High School have been instrumental in raising the four-year graduation rate from 83% in 2015 to 86% in 2016
* The high school staff has been trained in restorative justice practices in an effort to lower the suspension rate
* Councilman Rice worked with city leaders to Ban the Box on Municipal Job Applications
* Implemented a Barbershop Reading Program in 64 local barbershops and nail salons
* Brought back GED programs in English and Spanish at the high school
* Brought together 60 police officers and 60 at-risk adolescents through four Youth and Police Initiative (YPI) sessions to break down barriers of distrust
* Community partners worked with MBKNewRo to sponsor two Youth Job Fairs
* Leaders conducted a number of Family Literacy Workshops that included volunteer teens who helped adults and children with reading
* Councilman Rice and Milestone 6 Team sponsored a CLE presentation and community forum on the need for Raise the Age legislation in the state of New York
*MBKNewRo is working with the First-Source Center, which will train MBK youth for some of the 10,000 jobs that are expected to result from New Rochelle's downtown development plan
In addition to the tangible changes Rice and Richardson have witnessed in the New Rochelle community, they’ve also realized the biggest change comes from the spirit of the young people who are happy to know someone has their back.
“They have an awareness that people are there to support them, there are adults that care about them,” Rice said. “They also have an awareness that the entire community is in support of their success. Everyone in the community is trying to lift them up to reach the greatness that is inside of each and every one of them.”
(Photo: Courtesy of Devron Chambers)