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. With no guarantee the job would last, 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, which is managed by Liberty Hill. With enthusiasm and hard work, Dylan advocated with school board members and state legislators for changes in school discipline policies that disproportionately impact young men of color and have been shown to increase dropout rates.
“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 to improve the lives of young men of color.
“That moment brought my life full circle,” says Dylan, now a student at California State University, Chico, where he is Commissioner for Diversity Affairs. “When my mother lost her job and our home, we felt powerless. We don’t speak much about those days, but I am certain that my mother felt embarrassed and carried a large burden of shame. What she could not offer she would replace with a hug. The physical hug itself did not bring us out of the pit, but 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. I thought about our journey…. 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.”