Reflections on MBK Rising!
from Quamiir Trice
Quamiir Trice spends his days in a classroom at Bethune Elementary in North Philadelphia, where he teaches the fourth grade. There, he carries forward the vital—and at times, frustrating—work of inspiring them to chase their dreams, despite the challenges young people in Philadelphia too often face.
Quamiir understands those challenges firsthand. After serving time in the criminal justice system himself at the age of sixteen for a nonviolent offense, he earned his undergraduate degree from Howard University after excelling at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Young men like Quamiir—leaders who are stepping up in their communities—were front and center during MBK Rising!, a national convening hosted by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. MBK Rising! brought together young men like Quamiir, along with the organizations working hard to help them achieve their dreams. Together with the growing network of MBK Communities, the gathering was a celebration of the movement, five years after President Obama began the My Brother’s Keeper initiative at the White House.
With his sights set on law school and a bright future, Quamiir took the time to reflect on his experience at MBK Rising! and on what it actually takes to involve youth in decisions about their own futures.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table…create a table and look for people to join it.” Those words from Newark’s Mayor, Ras Baraka, impacted me deeply as he spoke to the Youth Track participants at MBK Rising! in February.
Inspired by Mayor Baraka’s words, I shared his quote onstage during the closing session of the conference when I was asked what I had learned and what I would take back to my community after the event.
As an educator, I feel obligated to use my voice not only at my school, but in my community. Too often people in politics and in other systems across the U.S. are making decisions without young people at the table. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into a room and older people—administrators, teachers, officials, community leaders—were having conversations about how they were going to help young people without any youth at the table.
In school, I often remind myself to remain humble and listen to my students. In return, I learn so much valuable information from them. They all have very unique perspectives on life and learning. Even when I share a similar background or narrative with some of my students, their perspectives still differ from my own.
In order for us to change the world, we need to change the way we think as a society and approach our work. Young people have the energy to carry out the plans of our predecessors. Let’s use that energy to create real power and change in partnership with our elders.
I also spoke onstage about the necessity of mentors and advocated compensating them. I wanted the audience to understand how important it is to be able to pick up the phone and call someone with wisdom and experience to validate the issues we young folks are dealing with every single day.
We need mentors. Too often, young people grow up without mentors and role models because their mother or father may not be in the household. Earlier at MBK Rising!, Steph Curry talked about the importance of his relationship with his dad was and it made me think about the relationship I have with my own father. My dad is incarcerated and I have never had the exposure and opportunities Steph mentioned, including when he said that his dad served as his moral compass throughout his life.
Until I found mentors later on in life, I found myself in a lot of trouble, which even led to my incarceration. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve found help from an adult I trusted sooner. Perhaps I would have if I knew the impact a mentor could make on young person in need of a moral compass.
That’s why I’m advocating for compensating mentors. Becoming a mentor can be challenging for those who worry about how to support themselves, among a host of other responsibilities. However, if mentors were paid, I think there would so much more creativity around mentorship and both mentees and mentors would benefit!
At MBK Rising! President Barack Obama said, “We need to build a pipeline of success for young people, not failure.” This quote made me reflect on how important it is for older people to really listen to younger people.
As a society we should remember the importance of not only mentoring but supporting our young people, laying the groundwork to create a pipeline of success, rather than failure. If we can do that, we can help expand access to opportunity for all—especially young men of color.
Watch Quamiir’s session at MBK Rising!: