The Brotherhood/Sister Sol Advocates for Social Justice, Mental Healthcare, and Education in NYC
Born and raised in New York City, Khary Lazarre-White, co-founded The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis) in 1995, a now nationally renowned, Harlem based, comprehensive youth development and educational organization that provides rites of passage programming, arts and enrichment based after school care, counseling, summer camps, job training, college preparation and scholarship, employment opportunities, community organizing training, legal representation, and month long international study programs to Africa, the Caribbean and South America. The organization provides direct service and political education to young people, trains educators across the nation on its model, and organizes to advance social change.
Black Enterprise spoke with the leading activist and change maker to learn more about his efforts over the last 25 years, and throughout the pandemic.
Executive Director & Co-Founder
Born and raised in New York City, Khary is a social entrepreneur, novelist, educator, activist and attorney.
In 1995, at the age of 21, Khary co-founded The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis), a now nationally renowned, Harlem based, comprehensive youth development and educational organization that provides rites of passage programming, arts and enrichment based after school care, counseling, summer camps, job training, college preparation and scholarship, employment opportunities, community organizing training, legal representation, and month long international study programs to Africa, the Caribbean and South America. The organization provides direct service and political education to young people, trains educators across the nation on its model, and organizes to advance social change.
Over the last 25 years Khary has been recognized for his leadership in providing some of the most innovative and highly successful practices in the nation. His awards include the Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network Use Your Life Award, as well as from institutions that include Ford Foundation, Black Girls Rock, Andrew Goodman Foundation, Union Square Awards, Brown University, National Recreation Foundation’s Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize, African American Literature Awards, National Guild for Community Arts Education, the national NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund/Shearman & Sterling Law Scholarship Award that supported his legal studies and a Resident Fellowship Award to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center.
How has Bro/Sis been supporting the Harlem community for the last 25 years?
- For 25 years, we have stood shoulder to shoulder with young people in pursuit of justice, equity, and access for all. We organize and advocate for broad policy change in three main areas: to ensure fair policing that adheres to the United States constitution and in criminal justice reform; environmental justice issues including providing a farmers’ market in our community, one fresh food deprived; and issues of educational access for economically poor children from Black and brown communities.
What is the mission of the organization and how has it impacted the communities?
- Founded in 1995, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis) provides comprehensive, holistic and long-term support services to youth who range in age from eight to twenty-two.
- Bro/Sis offers wrap around evidence-based programming. The organization focuses on issues such as leadership development and educational achievement, sexual responsibility, sexism and misogyny, political education and social justice, Pan-African and Latino history, and global awareness. Bro/Sis provides four-six year rites of passage programming, thorough five day a week after school care, school and home counseling, summer camps, job training and employment, college preparation, community organizing training, and international study programs to Africa and Latin America.
- Bro/Sis is unique in that we are locally based, yet with a national reach as we are: an evidence-based program that serves young people of color from economically poor communities and are seen as a model for the nation; we organize and advocate for social change; and we publish curricula and educate and train educators across the nation on our model.
- Our theory of change is to provide multi-layered support, guidance, education and love to our membership, to teach them to have self-discipline and form order in their lives, and then to offer opportunities and access so that they may develop agency.
Can you share a bit about your experience working with initiatives through Bro/Sis to promote Diversity and Inclusion?
- We are a Black founded and Black led organization that works with Black and Latinx youth to help them build skills to become successful in their communities, and change makers for social justice. Our organizational leadership is entirely people of color. Our Board is majority people of color, half women and men, and includes diverse backgrounds and professional expertise. Bro/Sis embodies diversity and inclusion and is a model for nonprofit organizations in this manner.
- We also engage in training efforts, whereby thousands of educators have been trained on our model of youth development, leading to culturally inclusive and reaffirming practices replicated at schools and nonprofits throughout the country – with our programming being modeled as far away as Bermuda and Brazil.
When the pandemic started, Bro/Sis pivoted to step up in NY, how did you achieve this? What are some examples of how your team has helped the local community throughout the pandemic?
- In March, we quickly mobilized to ask our youth members what they needed. They responded overwhelmingly with three needs – technology to assist with remote learning, financial assistance to address growing financial insecurity, and food. With this information in hand, we mobilized quickly and distributed over 375,000 meals to members and to the greater community, we provided 150 laptops and wireless hotspots for remote learning, and dispersed $100,000 in emergency financial assistance to member’s families in need.
- Since inception, Bro/Sis has applied an entrepreneurial approach to youth development and social justice. Our wrap-around and holistic support programs were intentionally created in response to a host of structural challenges faced by our youth including economic poverty, systemic racism, sexism, underperforming schools, and a lack of opportunity.
How does Bro/Sis differ from other organizations across the country? What makes your organization stand out?
- We are a Black founded, Black led organization, where all organizational leadership are people of color. Other organizations do great work around youth development. Some organizations work with young people to organize, engaging in political education. Others have responded to COVID to provide a robust emergency support effort. Some work in environmental justice – but very few organizations in the country provide all of this, and more.
- Our myriad approach to the work is really unique in the field. We are building an $18 million new building and once complete, it will be a unique project fully for the development and political education of young people.
How has Bro/Sis been helping young people with the mental health issues they are facing?
- In addition to providing intensive and long term support through our dedicated and talented staff, we have increased access to mental health care for both members and staff. We form close, long term bonds with our members. Our members support one another through bonds created in our programming. We’re also able to assist and connect youth to mental health care providers as needed.
What can we expect from Bro/Sis in 2021?
- Our wrap around youth programming and social justice efforts will continue in the coming year. Food distributions and emergency assistance will continue as long as is needed, likely through the calendar year.
- Our youth organizers are working on a campaign to address the school to prison pipeline, and increase the number of guidance counselors, college counselors, and other support at NYC public schools, which currently have more police officers than student support personnel. They are also working to engage with NYC mayoral candidates in a series of conversations around their plans to support youth if they are elected.
In summer 2021, we will move into our new building, a $19 million construction project that will feature space for health and wellness, a recording studio, cutting edge technology, space for community events, a greenhouse, a commercial kitchen with a teaching chef and assistant who will work with our members on eating healthy, and a rooftop basketball court sponsored by Kevin Durant.