CNN Honors Black ‘Heroes’ Making An Impact

‘CNN This Morning’ recently shared this year’s honorees, including a former first grade teacher who is helping Black boys improve their literacy

On Sunday, Dec. 10, the hit special CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute is making a return to our screens. The Peabody- and Emmy-winning show highlights outstanding individuals from communities around the world.

CNN This Morning recently shared this year’s honorees, including a former first grade teacher who is helping Black boys improve their literacy skills one haircut at a time, and a mother who’s transformed her grief into action to make a difference in her Detroit neighborhood. For the full list of Black heroes making a difference in the world, scroll below. 

Yasmine Arrington – ScholarCHIPS – Washington, DC

The child of an incarcerated parent, Yasmine Arrington, 30, struggled to obtain a college education due to lack of financial assistance. Now, years later, her circumstances have propelled her to create the nonprofit ScholarCHIPS, its last four letters serving as an acronym for Children of Incarcerated Parents. Each year, the organization works to help 30 young people whose lives have been affected by the carceral system to pursue a higher education. 

“Most of our scholars, when they apply to ScholarCHIPS, they say, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever told anyone’ that they have an incarcerated parent,” Arrington told CNN Heroes.

“So, ScholarCHIPS becomes a safe space where young people feel comfortable even divulging and sharing that information.”  

Osei Boateng – OKB Hope Foundation – Somerset, NJ and Ghana

Osei Boateng lost both his mother and his aunt to a treatable disease in his native Ghana, where the average life expectancy is only 64 years old. In Ghana, countless people die every year from preventable illnesses because they lack access to treatments. 

Their deaths and this reality prompted Boateng to form a non-profit organization and a mobile doctor’s office called the OKB Hope Foundation. Now, supplied with health equipment and manned with a crew of several medical professionals, the 28-year-old takes to the streets of Ghana to administer free life-saving care. The OKB Hope Foundation also incorporates mental health assistance, an often neglected and stigmatized layer of health care.

“Words cannot describe the feeling that you get providing care for someone who otherwise wouldn’t be alive if your mobile health van wasn’t there,” he told CNN Heroes

Since its founding, the organization has improved the lives of over 1,000 individuals, and Boateng hopes to expand the initiative. 

Alvin Irby – Barbershop Books – New York City, NY

As a former first grade teacher, Alvin Irby is accustomed to promoting literacy amongst young people. This familiarity is what makes his initiative to bring libraries into barber shops so successful. Irby has impacted the lives of several young boys in New York City by installing miniature libraries in barbershops across the city with his nonprofit Barbershop Books. It is a collaborative effort between Irby and Black barbers, who help encourage the young boys to fall in love with reading.

“We want them to encourage kids to use the reading spaces,” he told CNN Heroes. “Then they can talk to them about how they like reading, how funny a book was, or tell them about another book another kid was reading.” 

This project is a part of a larger mission to increase the number of positive Black male role models young boys are exposed to. Since its founding in 2013, the nonprofit has supplied 50,000 books to over 200 barber shops in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the area. 

Shamayim Harris or Mama Shu – Avalon Village – Highland Park, MI

In 2007, Shamayim Harris’ world was devastated by the loss of her two-year-old son, Jakobi Ra, who was tragically killed in the Highland Park suburb of Detroit, MI. She experienced this same pain again in 2021 when her 21-year-old son, Chinyelu, was fatally shot while conducting a neighborhood watch. Harris, affectionately called Mama Shu, has carried her grief for years but is now using it to help the people of Detroit access opportunities they never had before.

“I needed to … change grief into glory, pain into power,” Harris told CNN Heroes. “I just tried to transform it into something bearable and something beautiful.”

Mama Shu discovered Avalon Street on one of her drives. It was there that she envisioned a beautiful eco-village for community members, a place for people and businesses to flourish. She started off by buying a single home on the street that had recently gone on the market for $3,000, which was more than she could afford. Still, as more lots on Avalon Street became available, she continued to purchase them until, eventually, she had built the village of her dreams. Eight years and several volunteers and donations later, Avalon Street became Avalon Village. Now, it is a safe space for those in the Detroit community, offering people a library, music studio, basketball court, marketplace for aspiring entrepreneurs, and more. 

Kwane Stewart – Project Street Vet – San Diego, CA

Dr. Kwane Stewart is making a difference for homeless people and their pets through his nonprofit, Project Street Vet. The organization was born out of Stewart’s experiences as a veterinarian at a county shelter in northern California, where he regularly had to euthanize unwanted dogs. Eventually, the job began to cause such emotional anguish that Stewart was almost driven to quit the profession altogether. However, this changed after a fateful encounter with a homeless man, whose dog was suffering from a skin condition. Upon noticing the issue, Stewart diagnosed and treated the dog and was rewarded with gratitude.

“Thank you for not ignoring me,” the man told Stewart. Those six simple words were enough to make Stewart make a pivot in his career and channel his love for animals and helping people into something new, something better – caring for the pets of homeless people. Now, Project Street Vet has built a network across the country, with different volunteers, technicians and clinics aiding in his mission. 

Each Top 10 CNN Hero will be awarded $10,000 and the CNN Hero of the Year will receive an additional $100,000 to continue their commendable work.

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