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Celtics, Boston officials showcase Brother’s Keeper initiative

Yawu Miller | 9/24/2014, 11:13 a.m.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with members of the Boston Celtics and City of Boston officials to discuss ...
Former Detroit Pistons forward, businessman and Special Assistant to the NBA Commissioner Bob Lanier, Celtics forward Jeff Green and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan discuss efforts to improve educational outcomes for black and Latino youths during a forum at the Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan. (Banner photo)

Boston city officials, Boston Celtics players and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with students at the Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan last week for a discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing black and Latino boys in Boston.

The meeting showcased partnerships and efforts undergirding the Walsh administration’s local contribution to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a national effort to improve educational and life outcomes for black and Latino boys and young men.

“We’re here because this matters,” said Walsh administration Chief of Health and Human Services Felix G. Arroyo. “We’re here because we recognize that as men of color, life is harder. It’s not impossible, but it is harder.”

Boston school students listen to a panel discussion on the city’s efforts to improve educational outcomes for black and Latino students. (Banner photo)

Boston school students listen to a panel discussion on the city’s efforts to improve educational outcomes for black and Latino students. (Banner photo)

Several dozen students, teachers, city officials and community members gathered in the school auditorium as students shared stories of their successes, challenges and aspirations.

One of the more compelling stories, however, came from Celtics forward Jeff Green, who shared how he struggled to finish his undergraduate degree after leaving Georgetown University in 2007 to enter the NBA draft.

His opportunity to finish college came in 2011, after he had heart surgery and had to sit the season out.

“I graduated in May 2012,” he told the audience members, who responded with applause.

“Being the first in my family to graduate was big,” he continued, “especially from a university like Georgetown. I knew getting my education was really important. I know basketball won’t last forever. I’ll still be young. I’ll have to start a new career. Getting my degree gives me plenty of opportunities to choose from.”

Now Green can add mentor to his resume. He is part of the Celtics’ contribution to the My Brother’s Keeper effort in Boston, speaking to students about the importance of staying in school. The NBA has made a five-year commitment to supporting the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and Green and other Celtics have been deeply involved in the effort.

Celtics President Rich Gotham noted that the Celtics are rated number one in the NBA for community engagement, and pledged to keep that rank.

“We’re going to reach that each year, hopefully on the court too,” he said. “This is the most gratifying work we do and the most valuable partnership we have.”

City officials said mentoring, tutoring and volunteering for youth enrichment activities are among the most important ways to support the My Brother’s Keeper effort. Economic Development Chief John Barros, who is co-chair of the effort along with Arroyo, said city officials are creating partnerships that will help expand volunteer opportunities.

City officials met earlier this month with a 40-member advisory committee which includes clergy, educators and nonprofit leaders to discuss the effort.

“We want to create partnerships to do more work on this initiative,” Barros said. “Mayor Walsh asked each member of the city’s leadership body to think of different ways the city can collaborate on this issue.”

While neither the president nor the mayor has committed federal or local funds to the effort, Barros says the collaborations between agencies, nonprofits and individuals will yield results.

“We’re in a great position to eliminate the achievement and opportunity gap in Boston,” he said. “We need our boys and young men of color to believe in themselves, to believe in their potential and their ability to meet that potential through hard work.”

One student who modeled that mentality was Burke High School Senior Humphrey Ajike, who advised other students in the auditorium to view their education as an opportunity.

“I don’t see it as something my dad or my mom is forcing on me,” he said. “If you see it as an opportunity, you’ll go far.”

Duncan commended the gathered My Brother’s Keeper supporters for their efforts.

“I see a city with a mayor who’s committed,” he said. “What I see here is alignment with business, city and the nonprofit sector coming together.”