Ashley Blackman, one of the Brotherhood Crusade’s success stories
Ashley Blackman was not used to speaking in front of a crowd. For a brief moment on November 15th, she giggled and then gathered her courage to deliver her endearing, heartfelt message to community members and local officials at the opening of the Brotherhood Crusade’s new YouthSource Center at 5414 Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles.
The young woman’s shyness belied her accomplishments. At 21, she had graduated high school with honors, studied at El Camino College, and was en route to her goal of becoming a licensed vocational nurse. She intends to practice her trade within the local county jail system.
In recent years, Ashley also gained valuable job skills by volunteering at the Brotherhood Crusade’s front desk. “It was like coming to work every day,” she recalled, “I got experience and support, and I learned not to give up on my educational goals. It changed my life,” she said.
Now more people like Ashley can acquire skills at the nonprofit’s YouthSource Center, where the primary focus is to empower young adults from 17 to 21, giving them the opportunity to become work-force ready or embark on a path to higher education. The facility is intended to serve as a foundation for the realization of dreams.
“Our youth need additional support services and safety nets so that they can reach the next level of achievement,” says Charisse Bremond Weaver, president and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade. “We want to make sure they have everything at their fingertips, right in their own neighborhood.”
The center offers academic tutoring, General Equivalency Degree preparation, financial literacy training, a computer lab, paid internships, and a path to social justice. Free counseling is also available.
Robert Sainz, of L.A.’s City Development Department said that places like the new center are important because so many young people have lost their way and don’t have the resources to get back on track.
There are also fewer places for them to work.
“We now place 12,000 to 13,000 youths in summer jobs, but that number used to be 28,000,” says Michael Dolphin of the Employment Development Department. “Unfortunately, that money has gone away. It’s gotten tough out here, while the need has gotten even greater. You have to have the skills not just to get a job, but to retain one.”
Bruce Rhodes, program director of the new center, acknowledged his staff and asserted that the role of the facility is to give youth a place for self-actualization: “They may need to go back to school or get that GED to understand who they are, what they bring to the table, and how to move forward,” he said.
During the opening celebration, a number of community activists took a few moments to talk about the importance of coming together to uplift ‘our’ youth, including Fran Jemmott Rollins of the California Endowment, who spoke of the need to build communities where one child is as healthy as the next, and is free from violence, disrespect or the vagaries of income.
Bremond Weaver pointed out that the center fits into a larger plan for the Brotherhood to transform the lives of South Los Angeles’ youth. She thanked all of her supporters for standing shoulder to shoulder with the 44-year-old nonprofit, including corporate advisor Donovan Green, ATT, Asia Powell, Verizon, Danny Bakewell Sr., Pamela Bakewell, the Sentinel and the Bakewell Company, Greg Irish and Sainz of the Community Development Program, Marguerite LaMotte of Los Angeles Unified School District, and Marquise Harris-Dawson of the Community Coalition.
Bremond Weaver also offered thanks to the elected officials who were there or sent representatives, including Solomon Rivera, deputy chief of staff for Congresswoman Karen Bass; Maurice Lyles, field representative for Barbara Boxer; and Assemblyman Isadore Hall, for helping to support the expansive goals of the Brotherhood.
In accepting recognition from Heather Hutt, who represented Hall, Bremond Weaver spoke of getting a call from his office some months back that he had a surprise for her: It was a state-of-the-art computer lab for the YouthSource Center—then still under construction.
More than 20 years ago, Hall himself had been groomed at a local youth center, and went on to realize his own professional dreams. “His generous gift to the center,” says Bremond Weaver, “is what you call paying it forward. In the coming years, I trust we will have many more stories like that to tell about the young people who’ve come through our programs.”