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Collaboration is the best way forward

NACA Inspired Schools Network

Change, particularly long-lasting, sustainable change, can never happen in a vacuum. Whether a community is digitizing their practices with partners, or reforming the juvenile justice system, it takes thoughtful and consistent work with committed partners to make that progress possible.

Collaboration is at the heart of the  NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their focus on restorative justice is a natural continuation of their work to prioritize  Indigenous Excellence (Opens in a new tab) in and outside the classroom. By working with Fellows who are committed to Indigenous communities, NISN is building a movement of students, families, and educators to create excellent schools that will foster strong leaders who are academically prepared, secured in their identities, healthy, and primed to transform their communities. 

Maȟpíya Black Elk, Community Impact Leader of My Brother’s Keeper Albuquerque, credits their success to the unique structure of the network: “It’s not just us…we’re a collaborative.” NISN is also building an online resource hub for other schools across the country so everyone can benefit from their work, insights, and best practices. They successfully share knowledge between partners, allowing for growth across communities.

A photo of the entrance of a brick building. There are first floor and basement windows with black grated barriers on both sides of the door. The entrance has two blue steel doors and engraved in the stone above the doors reads "Boys Brotherhood Republic, Hubert-Hall." Underneath, on the supporting door frame is a board sign that reads "Lawndale Christian Legal Center, Loving-God. Lovinig People."

Connections built on a common foundation of trust can also create progress toward systemic change. Establishing this level of trust between partners is vital for  Lawndale Christian Legal Centers (LCLC) as they collaborate with other grantees in the My Brother’s Keeper network in Chicago. Cliff Nellis, the Executive Director of LCLC said, “Our services are word of mouth introductions. Being on the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance’s website raises the level of awareness of who we are and what we do, and oftentimes leads to introductions and other relationships that can bring on funding.” For instance, one of these introductions brought committed local Chicago leaders together to transform the criminal justice system through  Justice Rising: Project 77 (Opens in a new tab). This coalition is the expansion of Lawndale Christian Legal Center’s Holistic legal defense model for Chicago youth and emerging adults, focusing on four pillars of support: lawyers, case managers, outreach services, and wrap-around support.

Project 77 aims to break the cycle of decades of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating Black and Latino communities in Chicago. The Justice Rising coalition leading this initiative is made up of three Chicago community-based organizations,  Breakthrough (Opens in a new tab) BUILD, and  New Life Centers; the latter two are also My Brother’s Keeper grantees. The coalition’s main focus is counteracting the policies debilitating community members with criminal records. It also focuses on lengthy prison sentences, which have exacerbated the cycles of poverty, violence, and racial inequity in Chicago. The model will immediately expand to three new neighborhoods in Chicago with a combined population of 250,000 residents. The ultimate goal is to expand and institutionalize the model into all 77 Chicago neighborhoods, unlocking a brighter future for all boys and young men of color in Chicago. 

The MBK Alliance’s systems work can’t exist in a vacuum. Providing opportunities for invaluable exposure, access, and experiences is equally important. Within our work with New Life, youth participants got the exciting opportunity to attend NBA All-Star games and meet President Obama, Steph Curry, and John Legend. “To be part of MBK was to have somebody in your corner who wants to see your agency succeed,’” reflected Matt DeMateo, Executive Director of New Life. “The networking made it feel like having a bigger team, like there’s colleagues in the fight with you.”

We’re honored to amplify the powerful work of each My Brother’s Keeper community by connecting them to partners and leadership who can help expand their impact. This deep, collaborative investment can show up as knowledge-sharing, tapping into My Brother’s Keeper’s resources or coalitions that yield more than the sum of their parts. Creating lasting partnerships takes time and dedication, but the results are always worth it.

A young man with a deep skin tone wearing a gray hoodie and black jacket smiles toward the camera. There are other men and young men around him with deep skin tones. We see the sky slightly above their heads.

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