The Brotherhood/Sister Sol: Building Social Change Leaders

To mark Black History Month: A Century of Black Life, History and Culture, The AGF explores today’s Movement for Black Lives in a series of posts from Hero Citizens within our community and beyond. The fourth installment in the series (see the third here) is from Denisse Giron a 2014 Social Change Fellow.

“If you feel within you that commitment to social change, to trying to create a better world, you have to hone it, you have to support it, you have to hold it dear because it means so much.” With these words, Khary Lazarre-White was awarded the Hidden Heroes Award by The Andrew Goodman Foundation in 2013 for his work with The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis) in West Harlem, a comprehensive youth development and educational program that works through a transformative social organizing lens. The idea of creating a program for youth of color started while Lazarre-White was a senior at Brown University with his peer, Jason Warwin, at the John Hope Community Center in South Providence, working with young men to create a strong, supportive environment. In 1995, The Brotherhood became an incorporated organization and by 1998, with the addition of Dr. Susan Wilcox and programs for young women, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol was created.

Lazarre-White emphasized four key components to Bro/Sis: firstly, the organization has an intentional, professional, and political approach to their work. Secondly, the staff is put through an intensive hiring process, followed by necessary development throughout their time at Bro/Sis. (Half of the thirty staff members of Bro/Sis are alumni who have returned to help continue the work.) Third, the Bro/Sis theory of change defines programs that “provide multi-layered support, guidance, education and love to our membership, to teach them to have self-discipline and form order in their lives, and then to offer opportunities and access so that they may develop agency.” Lastly, Bro/Sis prides itself on being an evidence-based program – their youth members become the face of important social movements.

Regarding the current #BlackLivesMatters movement, a hashtag penned by three young black women, Khary Lazarre-White thinks that it is wonderful that it is getting attention, but acknowledges that black organizing, especially around police brutality, has been going on for decades. He also expressed the importance of having young people as spearheaders of the movement, much like the practices behind Bro/Sis. In fact, Former Bro/Sis Lyrical Circle member and Peace Poet, Luke Nephew’s song, “I Can’t Breathe” has become the anthem of the #BlackLivesMatter protests, prompting others like actor Samuel Jackson, singer Jessie J, and activist Staceyann Chin to make videos of themselves singing the song to raise awareness. In addition, Nicholas Peart, alumni and current staff member, was recently asked to testify before President Barrack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Active Bro/Sis youth members have been involved with making short films, testifying, and organizing protests.

There is also a vital need to follow up with the growing frustration and marches with “organizing, litigation, and boots on the ground,” said Lazarre-White. The Brotherhood/Sister Sol has also supported broader conversations around racial injustices, like mass incarceration, the criminal justice system, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and makes these key points in their Liberation Program.

As their goals state, “We offer long term and holistic intensive involvement with our members – education, support, guidance, love, and discipline. We seek to help to build strong women and men, brothers and sisters, leaders in their communities.” With regards to upcoming work, Bro/Sis will be co-hosting a panel conversation on education reform at New York University and in May they will kick off their annual farmers’ market.

About the Author

Denisse Giron is a Hofstra University undergraduate student. She was a 2014 AGF Social Change Fellow at Brotherhood/Sister Sol.