It’s been nearly two years since the world as we know it was turned upside down. We’ve faced unimaginable changes and challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic first began to spread. Despite it all, communities have stepped up, supported each other, and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance grantees have continued their hard work. In order to get a better understanding on how they’ve responded to this moment, we reached out to our four grantees to learn how their work has changed and evolved.
While the impact of the pandemic affected My Brother’s Keeper Alliance communities in various ways, each community mentioned having an increased focus on meeting emerging safety and health needs, while shifting their programmatic approaches.
In Detroit, Black Family Development Inc. is currently dedicating their efforts to improving neighborhood safety through the guidance of the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Opens in a new tab program. They saw their service projects drastically shift in order to continue providing for families. Their partners delivered food to students and their families, along with personal protective equipment items and technology needed for remote work and learning.
Young R.E.A.L. Brothers (Restorative, Engaging, Aspiring, Leaders) working with neighborhood community leaders to clean and beautify their community during the annual ARISE Detroit Neighborhoods Day
Kenyatta Stephens, CEO of Black Family Development Inc., details their efforts, “We delivered food to 107 students and their families that participate in our program, along with PPE items (masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer). Our face-to-face contact with the students and their families was well received, but more importantly, the parents were happy to see that our program had not forgotten about their children. Upon the delivery of food and PPE equipment to the students and the families, we found that several students have been confined to their homes due to COVID-19.”
While sheltering at home has been a challenge, some communities have seen a reduction in community violence. According to Stephens, “Parents are reporting that violence and conflict resolution has not been a problem and there was no gang activity reported.”
In Chicago, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center remains hard at work to provide restorative legal services for the youth in the Lawndale neighborhood. However, this year they saw and filled the need to focus efforts on community safety and well-being by educating members on the latest information regarding COVID-19. Robin Moore, director of holistic social services, shared that the legal center presented their community with “the methods and importance of social distancing,” while focusing on programmatic needs like “securing donations to help our young people stay indoors with access to essential items like food, rent assistance, internet access, phone service, online educational opportunities, and gaming systems for recreation.”
Keeping communities safe during COVID-19 is more than just social distancing and PPE, multiple grantees highlighted the importance of providing access to items that many take for granted, like laptops and tablets for remote learning, and even safe ways to have fun and relax with video games.
In Atlanta, Juma Ventures saw closures of their venues across the city. Robert Lewis Jr., the Juma Atlanta site director, explained, “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of sports and entertainment venues—shutting down Juma’s social enterprise businesses, putting our young people out of work, and temporarily pausing our YouthConnect programming.” This was a direct hit to their work in breaking the cycle of poverty for youth through work, education, and financial capability.
Lewis remarked that, “The generosity of the Obama Foundation and MBK community-supported Juma’s pivot to provide online programming ensured that our young people stay engaged with the program, continue to learn critical work skills, and become ready for work.” This year has shown that collaboration is key to ensuring all of our communities receive the support and guidance they deserve to virtually continue their work.
However, not everything can be replaced by a Zoom call, as Change Happens! witnessed in Houston. Their mission is centered on empowering people so that they can help themselves. Before the pandemic, they used to successfully host monthly dinners to enhance the relationships between participants in their mentorship program called Each One of Us. Impacted by COVID-19, they shifted their efforts by providing gift cards to restaurants, partnering with Lyft to provide codes for free or discounted rides to those who lacked transportation access, and delivering food directly to students who were attending school on campus. Now, the team is working on in-person activities they plan on hosting this school year as life begins to return to normal.
Juma Ventures is also preparing their “return to normal.” This year gave them the time to step back and review key aspects of their programming, including their YouthConnect curriculum. Opens in a new tab With feedback from staff and the boys and young men of color they serve, they redesigned programming to serve the diverse needs of their youth and created a series of achievable steps to create long-term impact.
While this is just a snapshot, all of our Impact and Seed Communities—and MBK Communities around the country in general—took the time and effort needed to meet their communities’ needs, as they made changes necessary to respond to the world around them. We’re proud of their work through this time of unparalleled uncertainty and can’t wait to see what’s next.
If you have a story of how your local MBK Community adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic please share it with us on social media and tag us @MBK_Alliance.