SPOTLIGHT ON COMMUNITY
Yonkers My Brother’s Keeper: How the mayor’s office, school district, and the community unite to support our youth
It was a familiar setting for the COVID-19 pandemic: Three old friends connected via video conference, reminiscing, commenting on the news, each other’s attire, and knocking out some critical work in the process. In 2020, this seems like just another day. However, this conversation is taking place in Yonkers, NY and the three friends on the screen also happen to be the city’s most fierce advocates for young people: Mayor Mike Spano, the 42nd mayor of Yonkers; Dr. Edwin Quezada, superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools; and Dr. Jim Bostic, executive director of the Nepperhan Community Center, an MBK Impact Community partner.
Each of these gentlemen has known each other for more than 20 years, and this bond—built on a shared commitment to support boys and young men of color—is one of the major reasons that Yonkers has become a proof point for the work of My Brother’s Keeper. Under their leadership, Yonkers MBK has served as a model jurisdiction for New York State MBK and has presided over the expansion of the network throughout the Lower Hudson Valley.
“Our bond is about helping others,”…”The mayor is my boss, but there isn’t a time where I can’t go to him and say ‘I need help.’”
Dr. Quezada, who joined President Obama and two young leaders for a primetime special on MSNBC last month, spent decades as an assistant principal and principal within Yonkers Public Schools before assuming his superintendent role. When mentioning the remarkable outcomes that have taken place as a result of My Brother’s Keeper—double-digit increases in graduation rates, fewer suspensions, and critical reforms and innovations within the county corrections system—Dr. Quezada is careful to mention that these results are also just as attainable with individuals who are not friends as well. To him, what’s most important is everyone working toward the same vision: “It’s all about the goals and it’s all about the perspective.”
This laser focus on an overarching goal is so important, and Dr. Bostic and Mayor Spano would agree. When asked what they were most proud of with respect to the city’s My Brother’s Keeper effort, their response was immediate and identical: “buy-in.”
“The buy-in is what I thought was remarkable,”…“40 years ago, Yonkers was in a federal desegregation order and the only city to be in a dual desegregation order … being able to come together in this work and—on day one—getting $250,000 into the budget is special. They were able to put this together in a way where there was almost instantaneous buy-in on the [city] council and that almost never happens.”
This collective buy-in also cleared the way for transformational change among city and county institutions such as the establishment of a My Brother’s Keeper wing within the Westchester County Department of Correction, which was highlighted in the Obama Foundation’s 2019 Year in Hope report. This reimagining of corrections work to offer clear pathways to advancement and education shines a bright light on what’s possible. What’s particularly special is the fact that young men in this Manhood Training Program are given a full scholarship to Manhattan College in the Bronx upon their completion as they transition back into the community.
For Dr. Bostic, a dean among the city’s non-profit leadership, the future vision is clear.
“My hope is that every young person in the City of Yonkers would fully realize the opportunities that are available to them. When they run into obstacles they realize that they have a friend in the community, they have a friend in the city’s educational administration, and a friend in city hall that are 110 percent behind them.”