Anyone looking for a theme at the Am I My Brother’s Keeper conference Nov. 11 at MCC-Penn Valley just had to remember the name of the event: How exactly do you have your brother’s back?
First, though, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver stopped by to tell a couple of stories and possibly break some news. On the subject of what President Obama will do after he leaves the White House: “His job every day will be My Brother’s Keeper,” the Kansas City Democrat said. “That will be his retirement.”
Obama signed a presidential memorandum in 2014 establishing the My
Brother’s Keeper Task Force, a federal government effort “to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.”
The conference at MCC-Penn Valley’s Education Center drew about 115 young men of color from the Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., public schools. Several Penn Valley students attended as well.
Opening speaker Mark Dupree, who becomes Wyandotte County district attorney in January, asked the tables of young men to discuss what would cause them to turn their back on a brother. Answers ranged from someone having more money or a better-looking girlfriend to gossip.
“Gossip,” Dupree told the audience, “is usually never the truth.”
On the subject of girlfriends, he reminded that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
“If you believe that your woman is beautiful, you need to stand up for your woman,” he said. “Women are beautiful, but know that you have the best-looking one even if someone disagrees.”
Dupree is a man of law these days — he’ll be the first black district attorney in Kansas, he said — but his early life was rough. He was 8 the first time he was shot at, he said. He was 13 the second time.
You’ll find thugs everywhere, he said. “But here’s the difference. You’re here,” he told the young men. “You don’t desire to be a part of foolishness.”
As a kid, he had to decide whether to be a thug or an educated leader. “Everybody say YES!” Dupree, who’s also a pastor, instructed the crowd. After they obliged, he told them that YES stands for young, educated and strong.
It matters who you let in your inner circle. Dupree, as a young man, surrounded himself with guys who were committed to him and vice versa. If he got an F in gym class for refusing to put on shorts, his friends would call him out on that.
At the end of his presentation, Dupree told the students to talk to each other about why they’ll commit to having one another’s backs. Then one guy from each table shared with the larger group.
I am my brother’s keeper because … “We show love for each other.” “We look out for each other.” “We show respect for each other.” “We want a better way of living.”
Isaiah Calloway, a senior at Washington High School in KCK, said later that the conference offered good reminders of things he needs to do to be successful. He’s planning to attend Kansas State to study electrical or mechanical engineering.
Tavaughn Sappington, a junior at Sumner Academy in KCK, agreed. He enjoyed hearing a Cleaver story about the friendship between boxer Muhammad Ali and sportscaster Howard Cosell: “You do need someone in your corner,” said Sappington, who hopes to play football in college and major in psychology.
The conference included breakout sessions on civic engagement, responsibility, and college access and persistence. A “fireside chat” included local school and police officials. Bryant Smith of Smith Consulting gave the closing address.
MCC organizers of the event included Robert N. Page Jr., Jessica Calderon, conference chairs Eric Thompson and John Hudson, Dawinderpreet Brar, Carlton Fowler and Terrell Tigner.