COMMUNITY VOICES | The Brian Coyle Center Brotherhood Program: empowering young Somali men to lead and inspire


On the 19th of August 2013, 11 young men who grew up in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of the West Bank in Minneapolis, and who completed high school this year, will have an opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Georgia. This opportunity was realized through the Brotherhood Program at the Cedar Riverside-based Brian Coyle Community Center. The Brotherhood Program emphasizes the need to be inspired, to educate and to be empowered to do better for oneself and community.

I am an out-of-school educator and advocate with the Brian Coyle Community Center of Pillsbury United Communities (PUC). I have several roles within the community center: I supervise teens who are employed with our agency during the summer, help tutor in the fall, mentor kids aged 6-18 in our youth program, and I am one of the leads for the Brotherhood Program. In the Cedar-Riverside community, which is home to a large base of African immigrants — mostly Somalis — young men and women are constantly challenged by exaggerated tales of their community being drug infested and violent. In some instances, there have been cases where violence and drug use have taken place but the effort to combat that and the programs that show all the great things that are being done in our communities are rarely highlighted.

In the Brotherhood Program, we focus on helping young men challenge the perceived status quo and obstacles surrounding the young black male, and especially in this case, being a Somali immigrant and Muslim. What I mean by “perceived status quo” is the perception that young Somali men lead a life that involves drugs, violence, prison and death; I will again point out that the number of young men in these predicaments is sensationalized, but the threat that these young men will fall into those lifestyles is very much real.

In recent years we have had young men leave to fight in Somalia through the influences of psychopathic, twisted individuals who corrupted the minds of these young men to take part in a man-inspired evil fantasy about dying for God and country. These events, though not totally determining their fate, challenge young Somali men today to rewrite their communities’ narratives and to leave a positive legacy — one that will inspire, educate and empower future generations of young Muslim, Somali, black males. That is why the Brotherhood Program stresses the importance of being goal-oriented and education about the self, community and society. The program also emphasizes finding inspiration and empowerment in positive thinking about oneself, community and society.

In order to drive these ideals home, we decided to take participants of the program on a trip to Atlanta. We plan to visit Morehouse College, the only all-male historically black institution of higher learning in the United States, and the Sweet Auburn Historic District, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and highlights the history, heritage and achievements of Atlanta’s African American community. We also plan to visit the Atlanta History Center and other notable historically significant sites in Atlanta.

Many of these young men have never left Cedar-Riverside. We hope this trip will inspire, educate and empower them to be more confident about themselves and their future.  Some of the young men wrote a bit about what this program and trip mean to them. This one in particular was written by Jala Abduljalil, who graduated from Lighthouse Academy of Nations, and is an accomplished runner for South High School. He said,

“The Brotherhood Program has allowed me to stay on the right track and not get involved with street-related activities. It has set me on the right path to succeed in the future and has motivated me to strive for successful career. This program has not just helped me but also others to understand the importance of making something of ourselves. This trip means a lot to me because I will be able to experience a life outside of Minneapolis, and bond with others who want the same as I do.”

The sentiments of this young man are representative of all the young men who have participated in the program and those who will take part in the trip.  We hope this trip will inspire them, educate them and empower them to continue to build on the success they have already attained. Lastly, I wanted to recognize those who are making this trip possible. We received significant funding through the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program (CRNRP). We also received donations by local businesses and the Twin Cities Somali malls. Most notably our donors include Afrik Grocery, West Bank Grocery, Sagal Restaurant, West Bank Diner (brother Najib), and City Council nominee Abdi Warsame, and many others who have made this trip a reality. Thank you.