James Bostic of Nepperhan in ReflectionMarch 1, 2019 -- “YONKERS IN THE HOUSE!” exclaimed President Barack Obama to over 2,000 community organizers and youth who attended last week’s My Brother’s Keeper Rising! Summit in Oakland, California.  

Flanked by NBA superstar Steph Curry and recording artist John Legend, POTUS44 recognized the City of Yonkers’ groundbreaking anti-violence program as one of ten national winners awarded his foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Community Alliance Challenge.  The Nepperhan Community Center and the Westchester County Department of Correction play keys role in the program, by providing mentoring and advocacy services to young men of color while they are still in custody at the County jail.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer stated: “President Obama’s recognition of the good work being done in the Yonkers schools, at Nepperhan and at our Department of Correction, reaffirms a core principal of my administration -- that there are no disposable people, and that there is hope for every individual to transcend many of the traditional barriers to success.”

The Obama Foundation began its work in 2014, with a focus on empowering and mentoring young men of color.  Last week’s three-day conference was attended by the Westchester winners, national community activists, elected officials, tribal leaders and other experts in their fields.   In a truly historic achievement, the partnership was selected out of over 130 other applicants nationwide, and was the only Summit honoree with ties to a jail or prison population. 

Correction Commissioner Joseph K. Spano stated: “A priority of our new Department of Correction leadership team has been to create an ecosystem of safety, support and respect for both for staff and offender.  We are honored to be recognized by President Obama and the hundreds of other leaders present at the Summit.  What makes our partnership truly unique is that so much of the good work is going to occur ‘inside,’ meaning within the walls of our facility.”

As noted by Commissioner Spano, a game-changer of Westchester’s partnership is the ‘in-reach’ occurring at the County’s correctional facility on the Grasslands Campus, where up to 25 young men will benefit from the program while still in custody.  Each of these 25 young men will be partnered with an adult mentor in the community, who will operate as the young man’s ‘navigator’ and pre-release liaison on several issues.  The navigator will interact frequently with the young man and his family both in-person and by use of the Department of Correction’s televisitation system.

First Deputy Commissioner of Correction Louis A. Molina, who oversees the Department’s 30+ recovery and rehabilitative programs, presented at the Summit alongside Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

Molina stated: “The core goal of our MBK program is to ensure a safe and structured return home for each of the affected young men.  In providing continuum of care engagement that includes a mentoring navigator, we hope to do just that.  When a young man returns to a home that has persistent issues, it increases the likelihood of his further involvement in the criminal justice system.  The MBK Mentor can help both the young man and his family to develop an appropriate plan for return, which can include support services and the right education and/or vocational training.  Ultimately, we hope to disrupt existing patterns of violence, addiction and transgenerational incarceration.”

Founded in 1938, the Nepperhan Community Center seeks to enhance the lives of children of all ages, focusing on education, culture, self-esteem and group dynamics. Through the MBK Alliance project, Nepperhan, the City’s school district and other partners like the YMCA, will employ evidence-based best practices and provide ‘wrap-around’ support to 250 boys and young men on the edge of adulthood.  Staffed by three full-time case managers, the Nepperhan program includes group mentoring, violence prevention, self-reflection and strategies for solving problems.

Prior to the Summit, the Obama Foundation traveled to every region of the United States and heard presentations from a wide variety of public-private partnerships.   The ten winners will collectively receive over five million dollars in grant funding and other assistance, and included Oakland, Albuquerque, Boston, Detroit, San Juan (PR), Houston and Los Angeles.

Additional links:

The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance site

Yonkers Public Schools (link to conference video)

Nepperhan Community Center