I was given the great honor of attending the Michigan Community Service Commission's My Brother's Keeper luncheon this week in Detroit. The event's guest speaker was Lonnie Ali. For the few mortals who don't know her. She is the widow of the world's greatest boxer and humanitarian, Muhammed Ali.
The My Brother's Keeper Initiative is a national effort supported by President Obama and non-profit leaders across the United States. The President launched the My Brother's Keeper Initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.
Through this initiative, the Obama administration is joining with cities and towns, businesses and foundations who are taking important steps to connect young people to mentoring, support networks and the skills they need to find a good job or go to college. This will set these young men on a positive course to work their way to the middle class.
"That's what My Brother's Keeper is all about. Helping more of our young people stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works - when it works, in those critical life changing moments." - President Barack Obama
The luncheon consisted of a variety of special guests who came together to honor Muhammed Ali's power as a humanitarian and how his fight in the ring and in the world is an example of how young people today can overcome great difficulties to obtain an education and become successful. Attendees included: Lonnie Ali, Michael Smith (representing the White House), former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Dhani Jones, Hill Harper, Mike Ellison, Wendy Spencer and supported by many of Detroit's education and community leaders.
Lonnie Ali did a great job educating the youth in the room about the mental strength her husband held against all of his naysayers. His adversaries ranged from Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman to the U.S. Supreme Court. When he refused to be drafted into the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The words she shared of how he struggled, but always stayed focus on the prize really resonated with the young men in the room.
Also, she talked to the adults in the room, particularly the men. She reminded everyone how Muhammed Ali continually gave of himself to help friends and strangers all over the world. She encouraged the adults in the room to double their efforts to support these young men and mentor them. Every speaker talked about the importance of men teaching boys to be men. Muhammed always took care of his children and supported thousands of other children and their families. He always believed.
"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth." - Muhammed Ali
This event reminded me that their is hope for this generation of young people. The media only shows boys of color as juvenile delinquents and killers. But at this event I saw a hundred young men from the urban centers of Michigan. They represented the cities of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and several other cities. They embrace the ideals of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative and are striving to become leaders in their communities.
Two such young men are Kamar Graves and Brendan Davis. They just graduated from Detroit's Frederick Douglas Academy (formerly Murray-Wright High School - my alma mater) and received full ride scholarships to Michigan State University. These young men are success stories, because we adults did not give up on them and supported them. Nor did they give up on themselves. They continued to fight for their future, just as Muhammed Ali did when he defeated George Foreman in a fight everyone said he could not win - just as society says these young men can't win. This is a fight we must fight to last round and win the championship!