Active members of BLOOM from left to right: George Weaver of Brotherhood Crusade, BLOOM Initiative Director, Robert Lewis, ‘Bloomer’ Anthony Smith, Actor and Activist LarenzTate and Buffalo Wild Wings Franchisee, Karim Webb.- photos by Troy Tieuel
Initiative members say they are tired of losing young Black men
Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men (BLOOM) is an initiative branched out of the California Community Foundation (CFF) created to give proactive resources to young Black males between the ages 14-18 who have been involved with the county probation system. BLOOM is the only major philanthropic initiative in the country to focus on such. When asked how the name BLOOM came about, the initiative director Robert Lewis, said they were inspired by the poem written by Tupac Shakur called ‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete’ that he says directly related to young men who make good of themselves out of bad circumstances.
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature's laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.” – Tupac Shakur
That idea of helping troubled Black youth become what they have full potential to be is what BLOOM channels their energy into. They give them opportunities to grow as men. Lewis says the reality of many of South LA’s young black men is “beyond a crisis.”
“I think where we are today is also a direct consequence of a peak of gang violence in the 80s [and] the crack epidemic. We’re dealing with the first generation that came out of that. Unfortunately, human nature is that we don’t tend to act with urgency until we’re in or beyond crisis mode. And that’s where we are today.”
A troubling fact is that young Black men are more likely to be in trouble with the law than to graduate high school according to BLOOM. They also say Black youth are arrested for juvenile felonies 16 times more often than their White counterparts. The probation system also provides its own challenges as 50% or more of youth in probation camps end up back in the youth or adult justice system. Out of the 18,000 youth which are under the probation system, 2,100 of them are considered “non-serious, non-violent” Black male youth according to BLOOM. This all is costing more money as well. A probation camp for juveniles is $100,000 per year and according to BLOOM, community-based alternative programs typically cost $2,000-$4,000 a year. They have seen that this is a crisis in all aspects.
In order to help BLOOM become a successful initiative in tackling this “crisis,” BLOOM has 18 members and has partnered with various sectors in LA such as Brotherhood Crusade, Los Angeles Urban League, Youth Mentoring Connection (YMC), Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention, Youth Justice Coalition, LAGRANT Communications, Liberty Hill Foundation and University of California, Los Angeles. Each partner has opportunities to offer these young men their programs through career-based mentoring, community organizing, re-shaping public perception, strengthening organizational competencies and skill sets, and ultimately help them to live a better life. Actor, Larenz Tate is a spokesperson for BLOOM and says his own experience is the reason behind his determination within this initiative.
“Clearly this is a passion project for everyone and beyond a project, this is something that really is meaningful because we’re dealing with real folk who really need us. I wish that this was here for a lot of young brothas that I grew up with and family members who aren’t here. I really wish they could’ve had something like this,” said Tate.
Tate saw many of his friends and family live lifestyles similar to Anthony Smith, a South LA native who was involved in gangs, a lifestyle of being in and out of jail and in the probation system. Smith says he didn’t have access to anyone or anything that told him there was a better lifestyle he could live.
“It’s hard. We don’t have any resources, you know, in our community that I came from, we didn’t have anything. I didn’t have Youth Justice Coalition that I could go to. I couldn’t go to the Brotherhood Crusade. I didn’t have no one to cope with. I didn’t have a father figure. I didn’t have a male role model in my life to show me this right path that I was supposed to go down,” he said.
Ever since becoming a “Bloomer,” Smith says it has helped him tremendously mentally.
“As I met the Brotherhood Crusade, they gave me the understanding of life, what it was about. They let me know, this ain’t the life for you and I understood that, you know. They helped me get a job with the Youth Justice Coalition. They helped me, you know, stay out of jail. They helped me get off probation. They helped me be what I want to be. They helped me be on the right path as far as like everything, my mindset, life, my mindset about how to get money, you know. They changed that. And that’s what we need. We need community-based organizations like them for help because I didn’t have that help,” he said.
George Weaver, a consultant for the Brotherhood Crusade, says Brotherhood Crusade is about “helping people help themselves.” He spoke of an experiment that sets an example for the type of mentality many young Black men have living in South LA. Weaver described this experiment, titled the ‘Flea Lid Experiment’ where he says scientists placed several fleas in a jar with a lid on top. The fleas would be heard hitting the top of the lid as they tried to escape. As the days went by, the fleas got weaker and weaker in their efforts to escape. By the fifth day, after removing the lid, the fleas did not try to escape.
“Even though the fleas had the ability to jump out of that container and more, not a single flea escaped. You see initially, the flees were truly captive, but when they took the lid off, the only thing that kept them there was their mentality of being captive,” Weaver said.
He says that realizing how we help ourselves and moving forward to educate and empower young people are the key focuses Brotherhood Crusade brings to BLOOM.
“Our foundation lays in the process of self-actualization, which says I’m going to understand who I am and where I come from and my position in the world and my responsibility as an individual. I’m [going to] move from just being concerned about myself to understanding being concerned about the community. And so the self-actualization process brings that reality of experience to our young people so that they can now say, ‘I want this for myself,’” Weaver said.
BLOOM provides their young men with job opportunities. They currently have eight job partners that are committed to providing jobs, internships, job shadowing and apprenticeships. Those job partners are McDonalds, AEG, Martin Alder Media, Brotherhood Crusade, LA Metro, UPS and Buffalo Wild Wings. Buffalo Wild Wings Franchisee, Karim Webb, says his business does more than just give Bloomers jobs, but mentors those who get jobs with their business.
“The way in which we work with BLOOM now is one, we’re in the process of taking all Bloomers that are going to work in our restaurant [and] we’re committed to mentoring the individuals that we hire. Not only bringing them in and giving them jobs, giving them hours and putting them in a position to, you know, gain transferable skills.
“Differently than we would do with any other of our employees, sit down with them and take an active interest in the totality of their lives and expose them to access of aspects of our business that we wouldn’t expose to other people that come in for entry-level positions,” Webb said.
In 2013, BLOOM looks to add more partners. They also have a community town hall meeting that they will be hosting within the next couple months. By the year 2017, BLOOM seeks to be helping 2,000 youth get on the right path in their lives.