At only 19 years old, Khali Raymond has already written more than 50 works of fiction about what it’s like to be young and African American and dealing with racism, confrontations with police, and relationships. But the best story is the one he’s writing with his own life.
Raymond is a fellow of My Brother’s Keeper Newark, a city that was one of 250 communities to respond to President Obama’s 2014 call for action to improve the life outcomes of boys and young men of color. And he was one of more than 1,400 young men and 190 Prudential employees who participated in the MBK Pathways to Success Opportunity Summit late last month at the Prudential Center in Newark.
For the past year, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation, has focused on connecting young men to career pathways through the MBK Opportunity Summit.
The summit’s many features ran the gamut from learning how to dress for a job interview to participating in actual job interviews with 25 of the 55 local employers and major companies in attendance, including Prudential and Starbucks. The alliance had held previous summits in Memphis, Oakland and Detroit.
“We want participants at the summits to walk in and immediately feel the love and support of the scores of partners there,” says Michael Smith, who was a special assistant to President Obama for MBK and is currently the director of the MBK Alliance. “Emotionally, it’s about providing words of wisdom and giving them a sense of self-worth they may not be feeling at home. Practically speaking, it’s about opening doors, breaking down barriers and giving them a jump-start to a better future.”
“We are heartened by the success stories we are already seeing from the summit, and all the opportunities that this platform has brought to the youth of our city,” said Shané Harris, vice president, corporate giving, Prudential. “We look forward to continuing our work with all our partners in this critical mission of providing quality employment pathways for Newark residents.”
Fellowship opening doors
The chapter of Raymond’s story that ended with the summit began when he was a year old and lost his father, which left his mother to take care of three children by herself.
“She made many sacrifices in order for us to have food on the table, a roof over our heads and an opportunity for a good future,” Raymond says. “We moved around a lot, from housing project to housing project, and everywhere we went I saw violence and was surrounded by young people who were not inspired to want anything more.”
In 2015, My Brother’s Keeper Newark held one of its “Occupy the School” events at Raymond’s school, where Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and other men from the community provided inspirational messages. When the mayor finished speaking that day, “I walked up and told him about my books,” Raymond recalls.
After that, the two would talk from time to time, with Mayor Baraka eventually arranging a book signing at City Hall.
As a result of his exposure to My Brother’s Keeper Newark, and armed with the knowledge that thousands of the city’s young men of color were currently out of school or not working, Raymond became a fellow for the organization.
“My mission is to get more young people to take that next step in accomplishing their goals,” he says. “As a writer, I see art as a way to engage young people. It helps them find words where they may not exist.”
Raymond views his efforts as a long-term proposition. “We have a lot more work to do to reach others, and I am here for it,” he asserts. “I’ve learned that potential stays untapped without opportunity. And I know the Opportunity Summit will help make my city a place where everyone can make it.”
History of support
As one of My Brother Keeper’s first corporate partners, Prudential has committed more than $14 million in grants and impact investments to support the initiative.
Prudential’s support helps fund endeavors like the Opportunity Summit, among other education and training programs that help boys and young men of color build the skills they need to obtain quality jobs.
“As a company, we’re committed to helping all people build brighter financial futures,” says Lori Fouché, head of Prudential’s Individual Solutions Group and a member of the MBK Alliance’s board of directors, “and giving young men of color access to new career opportunities is an excellent example of that commitment in action.”