President Obama and young men from Los Angeles, including Brotherhood Crusade youth Armando Reyes Jr., Anthony Escobar, Kevin Escobar, and Semaj Clark. (photo Courtesy of Liberty Hill Foundation)
If you ever receive an invitation to meet the president of the United States, here’s what you do: drop everything else on your schedule, don’t try to tell your friends—they won’t believe you, and remember to obey the Secret Service when you arrive.
That’s the advice of Armando Reyes Jr., of the Brotherhood Crusade, who was one of 16 young men selected to meet with President Barack Obama during his July 24 visit to Los Angeles. The list of invited guests also included Brotherhood Crusade youth Anthony Escobar, Kevin Escobar, and Semaj Clark.
The White House extended the invitation as part of the president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. The goal of the initiative is “to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential,” according to a White House press release. The initiative identifies programs that work and encourages their support and expansion.
The young men were chosen to meet the president because they are leaders among their peers in four of five programs that were identified as highly effective solutions to addressing opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color: Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Hire LA Youth; City of Los Angeles Economic & Workforce Development Department; Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition; Sons and Brothers; BLOOM; and Homeboy Industries. President Obama was most interested in learning more about why these initiatives are successful and how they can be scaled to serve communities nationwide.
The four Brotherhood Crusade youth serve as examples of the success of these programs.
“Intentionality, purpose, consistency and execution— these are the tenets that define the Brotherhood Crusade’s work with boys and young men of color,” said Charisse Bremond Weaver, president and CEO of Brotherhood Crusade.
The meeting with the president made Brotherhood Crusade history: the young men are the first youth from the non-profit organization to meet with a sitting president. Reyes learned of the invitation a day before the event. The news left him stunned.
“It was a lot to take in,” Reyes recalled. “I didn’t know what to think.”
When the 20-year-old told his grandparents, they didn’t believe him. “They said, ‘Yeah, right.’”
Reyes and the other young men attended a speech that the president gave at Trade Technical College during which he spoke about the economy and jobs. After the speech, members of the Secret Service escorted the young men to a private room where they awaited the arrival of the president. Some youth sat, but Reyes paced quietly back and forth.
Then the president arrived and Reyes stepped forward.
“As he approached us in the room, I shook his hand and gave him a hug,” Reyes said. “I told him my name. He said, ‘It’s nice to meet you, a pleasure.’”
After personally greeting the youth in attendance, the president spoke to the group about the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, told them he was proud of them, and encouraged them to continue on the path of achievement.
“Semaj Clark learned about the president’s past and realized that his early life was very similar,” Bremond Weaver said. “He was inspired to do all he could do to help others succeed. Clearly, there is no substitute for this kind of opportunity.”
Brotherhood Crusade youth know that the kind of help the initiative offers can change a young man’s life. The Brotherhood Crusade’s Youth Source Center assisted Reyes in landing his first job as a youth counselor. At the center he took a computer literacy course, received help with his resume, and guidance in applying to college. He also began to discover his potential. Reyes, a student at Lassen Community College in Susanville, has now had an experience that few, if any, of his peers have had.
“Just [Obama’s] presence, the fact that we were both in the same room, was really cool,” he said.
Reyes’ grandparents finally believed his story—-after they saw a photo of Reyes standing with the president.
“They were speechless,” he said.