[Passion to Purpose]: LaVar Young, New Jersey Director of The Black Alliance for Educational Options

Name: LaVar Young

Profession: New Jersey Director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO); Owner and Operator of Urban Talk U.S.A., a speaker’s bureau

Age: 37

LaVar Young has contributed to society as an entrepreneur, a persuasive and accomplished public speaker, and as a developer and leader for a nonprofit program. He has devoted his life’s work to helping individuals succeed and empowering communities.

Championing for black men, especially fathers, is a right, a privilege, a responsibility, an honor, and a mission for Young. As winner of the Martin Luther King Visionary of the Future Award, Young is a leader that has built a tremendous national reputation. Currently, he serves as the New Jersey director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, providing educational options for working-class and low-income families.

How does one become motivated and inspired to fight for those who want to improve the quality of their lives and pass on a legacy of educational wealth? “Helping people find their passion and succeeding in life inspires me. Ultimately, we all have the potential to do extraordinary things in life. I believe the key is finding what motivates us, and pursuing it at all costs. In my experience, when we are able to find our passion, it creates the opportunity to accomplish it is we want to pursue,” Young tells BE Modern Man.

When reflecting on such experiences from his own life, Young says, “At the age of 20, during my third year in college, I became a father. This life event served as the catalyst for breaking the ‘absentee father’ generational curse in my family, [and enabled me to] understand the challenges many young black men face [as they pertain to] economic opportunity, education, and family unification. It was no longer about me, rather it was about how I could create opportunities for my son that I had never had. At the same time, it was also about how I could use my experience to motivate other fathers to become integrally involved in the lives of their children.”

Experiences in life can sometimes include a few unexpected instances that can either make or break you as a person. Once faced with providing for someone other than himself and breaking that generational cycle, what one might view as a hiccup became a teachable moment for Young. “Having a son at a young age was extremely challenging and motivating at the same time. Around the time that my son was born was probably when I was most unaware of who I was and my purpose in life. I was still a kid, and I was not mature enough to understand the challenges and responsibility of fatherhood,” Young says.

Black men—more specifically, fathers—are often absent from their children’s lives, and mainstream media has used this narrative to shame and victimize not only individuals, but entire family units. How does Young feel about this portrayal? “Mainstream media does not do an effective job of spreading [news on the] good work that happens day-to-day by people of color. These limited perspectives can often cap the aspirations of young people. If all I see on TV are negative images or successful athletes, musicians, and movie stars, then it clouds my ability to believe that I can do anything to become successful—that I’m not only limited to what can be seen in the media. Certainly, sharing more positive, inclusive news featuring the entire community can only be beneficial,” he states.

Conversely, mainstream media also has a history of portraying men of color that are proactive in their children’s lives or who value making positive, meaningful contributions to civilization as societal anomalies—if acknowledged at all. “As a man of color, I’m not really interested in being viewed as a champion for the work I do. When we look at other cultures and communities, I don’t know if those men are always viewed as champions, because of their contributions or work. Oftentimes, it’s generally accepted as the norm. So, I sometimes have an issue with being perceived as ‘abnormal’ or ‘exceptional,’ simply because I see a need in my community, and I take action to address it. Everyone likes to be acknowledged, but I don’t think it should be solely based on me being a man of color that does good work,” Young tells BE Modern Man.

Fatherhood taught Young how to manage things and be organized, which proved beneficial in his professional career. A natural born leader, Young held stints as president and CEO of Newark Now, an organization founded by former Mayor Cory Booker. Additionally, Young worked with several other Newark-based organizations before securing the one role nearest and dearest to his heart; the director of Fathers Now at the Newark Comprehensive Center for Fathers. Aimed at aiding fathers transitioning from prison to the workforce and helping men recover from various societal issues, the program has garnered local and national attention from CNN: Building Up AmericaUSA Today, and was even featured in a documentary titled Man Up: The Exploration of a Fatherless Nation, all while under Young’s fearless and dedicated direction.

“Throughout my life and my professional experiences, I have been blessed to become a leader of social change in the city of Newark, N.J. For me, this has been one of my greatest achievements. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, but moved to Newark, N.J. 15 years ago, shortly after graduating from college. If you know Newark, N.J., you know that folks born and raised here don’t typically welcome outsiders with open arms. My work and its related outcome has given me the opportunity to connect with Newark families in a positive way, and it has truly impacted lives in great ways,” he says.

When it comes to making an impact and breaking through the static, Young is very clear on his role as a leader. “I think you have to stay focused on your goals and outcomes. Oftentimes, that can be difficult, when you’re working with partners or colleagues who may have different ideas on how to achieve the goal. In my experience, I have learned to stay true to what the need is and remain focused on the global impact of what we are trying to achieve. As leaders, we have to always remember that it’s not about us; it’s about using the opportunities given to us to create opportunities for others,” he tells BE Modern Man.

Young knows that men of color that are dedicated to leading and educating the next generation of visionaries and dreamers, like himself, are necessary in order to make a greater impact for the entire community. “When helping parents explore educational options for their children, being able to relate to challenges and understand the background of a family’s dynamic is important, in the work that I do. As parents, it’s simply not enough to send your children to school daily without being engaged in what’s happening at the policy funding level for schools.” He continues, “Anything is possible for anyone, regardless of race or gender.”

Young offers this valuable nugget of advice to the next generation of BE Modern Men hopefuls, “It’s cliché, but I believe you must stay true to yourself. No matter the obstacles you face, you have to know that there is a greater purpose for your life. If you stay true to who you are and work extremely hard, great things will happen.”

BE Modern Man stories represent why diversity is necessary among different sectors to produce and promote well-rounded narratives surrounding the needs and desires of black men. “To me, a BE Modern Man is someone that is adaptive to change; someone that understands the challenges faced day-to-day in our community; and someone that is available to help others that may be in similar situations, as I was, to ultimately help them fulfill their goals and dreams. I hope that I am viewed as a leader and as an example of what’s possible in our community,” Young tells BE Modern Man.

“This type of [positive] exposure is needed, because it’s not as rare as our society would have you believe. I know many black men that are doing exceptional work in their respective fields. We are not the exception, we are the norm—it’s just a matter of getting our voices and work acknowledged,” Young says.

Black Enterprise salutes LaVar Young for his continuous effort to provide assistance in the educational sphere and piece together broken families in underserved communities. Because of his previous work with Fathers Now, a generation can break the cycle of raising fatherless children—that is why he is a BE Modern Man.

It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @blackenterprise and join the BE Modern Man conversation using #BEModernMan.