Dylan Gray was 13 and living with his mother in L.A.'s "white-picket-fence suburbs" when she lost her job and their home. After "months of searching and living on minimal resources," his mom found a position on the East Coast and his parents decided he should live with his dad in Inglewood.
At Morningside High, Dylan learned about "all the barriers that boys and men of color face in communities like Inglewood," but in the Black Male Youth Academy on campus, he worked on college-prep projects and was invited to participate in the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition. Dylan advocated with school board members and state legislators for changes in school discipline policies. "If students continue to be suspended at a high rate for minor acts, how will they ever get a proper education?" says Dylan. "There are better ways for schools to address this issue that bring healing and repair the tension."
After President Obama created his My Brother's Keeper initiative, he met with Dylan and other Brothers, Sons, Selves members to congratulate them on the successful community organizing work that was a model for his national effort. "That moment brought my life full circle," says Dylan.
"When my mother lost her job and our home, we felt powerless. I am certain that my mother felt embarrassed and carried a large burden of shame. What she could not offer [materially] she would replace with a hug. It gave us hope that we would one day overcome.
"As I stood shoulder to shoulder with President Barack Obama I thought about my mother. I thought about our struggles. So when he made his rounds shaking hands, and got to me, I moved past his hand and I embraced him with a hug. I wanted the president to understand that we are here and we are overcoming."
Today, Dylan is a sophomore and current student body president at California State University, Chico. As a freshman, he served as the school's commissioner of diversity affairs. He plans to go to law school and "eventually run for office."