Organizers of the Washtenaw County chapter of My Brother's Keeper (WMBK) this weekend will announce changes to the chapter's leadership, including a partnership with the nonprofit Black Men Read.
Washtenaw County was the first county in the nation to embrace My Brother's Keeper. The Obama-era White House initiative challenged adults in communities of color to mentor youth, focusing on school readiness and success, preparation for college and career, and giving second chances to youth who have had run-ins with law enforcement.
WMBK has been through a number of changes since it launched in 2016, and has largely been run by part-time paid staff and a volunteer steering committee. It recently started holding monthly "50 Strong" breakfasts, which are meant to gather a coalition of roughly 50 men whom local youth can call upon for support. At a special 50 Strong breakfast this weekend WMBK will celebrate the recent appointment of its first full-time employee, project specialist Jamall Bufford.
Bufford's first experience with WMBK came during the organization's Local Action Summit 3 last autumn on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.
"I was excited to see all the young people there, and the work they were doing," Bufford says.
Steering committee member Shamar Herron also asked Bufford to start coming to the monthly 50 Strong breakfasts.
"I started going to these intergenerational breakfasts that take place with men of color of all ages," Bufford says. 'It's a place they can go and network, share ideas and resources, and community-build."
Bufford was born in Atlanta but attended Ann Arbor Public Schools and lived in the Ann Arbor area for most of his life. Currently residing in Superior Township, he's also known in the local music scene as a rapper and songwriter, sometimes performing under the name Buff1.
Before his involvement with WMBK, Bufford was the music coordinator for Neutral Zone, an Ann Arbor-based youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression and community leadership. Bufford served as a member of WMBK's steering committee for several months before being hired in his new position in late September.
During the Oct. 12 event, WMBK will also announce its formal partnership with Black Men Read, co-founded by Yodit Mesfin Johnson, who has helped WMBK with strategic planning and visioning. The nonprofit presents regular events in which black men read books to groups of children.
The partnership arose after Mesfin Johnson asked if any WMBK members were interested in reading to youth in the community through Black Men Read.
"Some steering committee members have participated (in past Black Men Read events), but both sides thought that it would be really beneficial if we made the partnership official, and strengthen the bond between men of color in our community and the children of our community," Bufford says. "The ultimate goal is improving literacy, but in order to do that, it's not just about reading of books but about building relationships and community-building."
All men and boys of color living in Washtenaw County and any other local residents interested in supporting WMBK are invited to the 50 Strong breakfast from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 12 at the former Willow Run Middle School, 235 Spencer Lane in Ypsilanti Township.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
50 Strong photo courtesy of WMBK. Jamall Bufford photo by Ashley Kryscynski.