MBK Newark Youth Reflection

Khali Raymond holding his diploma

My name is Khali Raymond, and I am nineteen years old. I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. When I was a year old, my dad passed away. At the time, my mother was left to take care of three children by herself. She has made many sacrifices in order for us to have food on the table, a roof over our heads, and an opportunity for a good future. We moved around a lot and from housing project to housing project each time I saw violence and was surrounded by young people who were not inspired to want anything more.

At the age of fifteen, I wrote my first book, The Ballad of Sidney Hill. It’s about an eighteen year old who was forced to move from Florida to Badlands, a fictional city in Pennsylvania, which was filled with crime and desperation. He had to learn how to survive his new life in this dangerous environment. Sidney learned to never give up and keep those he loves, close. Since then, I have written more than fifty books about growing up young and African-American, dealing with racism, police brutality and relationships.

I use my books and my passion for writing to open doors for those who look like me and come from similar circumstances. So they can see that they can create opportunities for themselves too. I help to tell their story, because too often they cannot do it themselves. My goal is for people to look past my story, and where and how I grew up, to see the potential of Newark’s youth.

Newark raised me and I can see it changing for the better, but here’s an ugly truth: about 7,000 of Newark’s youth are out of school or not working, the majority are young men of color. That’s a problem. I can see for myself that it is even worse for young men of color. The question I ask is – what can we do to make opportunity available for everyone in the city to benefit?

That’s why I became a My Brother’s Keeper Newark Fellow. My mission is to get more young people to take that next step in accomplishing their goals. As a writer and a poet, I see art as a way to engage young people. Art is all around us; from the music we listen to, the murals on buildings all over the city, to the people. I believe art helps young people find words where they may not exist. I have turned my passion for art into a career as a writer and I think Newark can create a bigger economy in the arts. It is not just performers and artists who can make money in the arts, but set designers, engineers, promoters. Newark is already well-known in the arts and I think we can bring that back, especially with the new tourism and the development downtown.

I first found out about My Brother’s Keeper through their Occupy the School event, a program where Mayor Ras Baraka and men from the community visit schools, greets students as they come in and then share an inspirational message. The Mayor spoke at my school in 2015, and when he finished I walked up and told him about my books. From time to time, I would talk with the Mayor and he would share encouraging words. The next thing I knew, the Mayor arranged a book signing for me at City Hall. That’s mentorship: seeing potential, taking time to inspire and creating opportunities.

This is just my story. We have a lot more work to do to reach others, and I am here for it. I have learned that potential stays untapped without opportunity. The Opportunity Summit that the Obama Foundation and MBK Alliance are hosting with Mayor Baraka, My Brother’s Keeper Newark and Prudential will help make my city a place where everyone can make it. I believe my brothers are the future.