MBK Young Leader Spotlight
Inspiring Hope in Denver, One Student at a Time
Dane Washington Jr.
Meet Dane Washington Jr., one of MBK Denver’s 25 Emerging Leaders in 2020. Washington started his journey in the boys and young men of color field by working at his father’s nonprofit, Kids Above Everything, during the summers to “educate and empower youth to use their voice for positive change in their lives and in their community.”
He now manages Kids Above Everything’s signature Greater Than One program, supporting elementary students with behavioral issues and learning deficiencies to overcome obstacles to education through mentorship, life coaching, media arts training, and personalized academic support.
Outside of his role at Kids Above Everything, Washington serves as the Youth Lead for The Power of One, a youth violence prevention campaign that identifies risk factors and root causes for violence in Denver, and brings the community together to co-create solutions. Dane is also the Youth Co-Chair of the Youth Violence Prevention Advisory Council of the Mayor’s Office of Denver, where he advocates for policy change initiatives, curriculum reform in Denver schools, and ways to implement mental health resources in the Black and Brown communities within the city. To quote Washington, “I just want to make a difference in someone else’s life.”
What are you most passionate about in your work with boys and young men of color?
So many people are so creative in so many ways—Black and Brown children are being failed because we don’t have the resources to succeed the way we need to. If we had equal opportunities and access to mental health services, the world would be a completely different place.
What inspired you to see supporting youth of color in Denver as your purpose?
I’ve always been involved with programs for youth of color in Denver, but my real wake-up call came earlier this year when I was working with one of my kids [at Kids Above Everything], a third-grader, and he threw a tantrum because he couldn’t get through the book we were reading, and he was consistently frustrated when we sit down to go through his work. He doesn’t know his own birthday, he struggles across subjects, and it’s clear that he isn’t getting the support that he needs at home or in school, so I sat with him all day, every day to get through it. The other kids joke that he’s just my favorite, but it’s not an accident that these kids are put in this situation. It’s systematic that some Black and Brown fifth graders read at a kindergarten level, which leads them to fall behind in middle school, be unprepared for high school, and struggle to develop a career or pursue higher education.
They don’t have motivational people who talk to them about what it’s like to be successful, so we have to become that trusted source.
What keeps you going?
I’m teaching kids what it means to be appreciated in life, and that they’re worth so much more than how the world may see them. I help them see the value in themselves, and encourage them to not accept any less because of where they’re from or how they perform in school. I’m doing work that’s not for me anymore—it’s so much bigger than myself.
My Brother’s Keeper Denver, led by the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs, accepted the MBK Community Challenge in 2014. They work collaboratively with community members and youth, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and other government agencies to identify the issues that most often keep boys and young men of color from achieving success. Their team designs comprehensive strategies and lays the groundwork to create opportunities to change the paths of boys and young men of color, largely focusing on youth violence prevention and workforce development, which has improved outcomes in the juvenile justice system, education, and social and emotional health.