The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, or Bro/Sis as members and staff affectionately shorten the name, was established in 1994 to offer supportive programs for Black and Latino youth in impoverished communities. Co-founders and childhood friends Jason Warwin and Khary Lazarre-White founded The Brotherhood when they were seniors at Brown University on the Southside of Providence at the John Hope Community Center. They recognized the obstacles young men face growing up in poverty, and they believed that the creation of a strong, supportive community could help youth overcome challenges of circumstance and succeed in life. They began work with a group of fifteen deeply disaffected youth and within one year and helped guide all but one of these young men away from criminal activity, disassociated behavior and back into school and stable lives.
They brought their innovative and successful youth development model for young men to New York City in 1995, and incorporated The Brotherhood as a nonprofit. Jason and Khary began working with about 45 young men in two public schools – one of the schools was Jason’s former high school, Central Park East in East Harlem. Over the next three years they hired additional staff, grew the organization and doubled the number of young people in the program.
In 1998 Dr. Susan Wilcox joined Jason and Khary in the Directors Circle (the leadership team providing organizational vision and echoing our core ideals of community, collaboration and equity). Under her guidance, we expanded to include programs for young women and renamed the organization The Brotherhood/Sister Sol.
The organization grew from that beginning into what it is today: a Harlem based, comprehensive and holistic youth development organization that provides long-term support services to Black and Latino youth who range in age from eight to twenty-two. The Brotherhood/Sister Sol focuses on issues such as leadership development and educational achievement, bias reduction, sexual responsibility, sexism and misogyny, political education and social justice, Pan African and Latino history, and global awareness. Bro/Sis operates like a well constructed family and provides four-six year rites of passage programming, thorough five day a week after school care, school and home counseling, summer camps, job training, college preparation, employment opportunities, community organizing training, a community garden stewards and environmental education program, and free legal representation. Bro/Sis continually seek to expose our young people to new opportunities through wilderness retreats, cultural performances, college tours, and month long intensive study programs to places such as Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Mexico, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Brazil. We publish assorted curricula and collections of our members’ writings and train educators from throughout the nation on our approach and advise throughout NYC and the country on our model and policy related to our work.
In December 1999, we purchased and renovated a Harlem brownstone that serves as our headquarters – creating a space designed for and respectful of young people, filled with their artwork – a beacon and a home. We own the land adjacent to our site and also took an abandoned three lots and turned them into an environmental education center. We now control five lots of land in Harlem. Our plan is to build an environmentally green building that wraps around our brownstone: This will provide a visual reminder of a space that has a special significance to our members and community.
In 1997 the organization published The Brotherhood Speaks, a collection of our young men’s writings and commentary on the world through their eyes. This began a long history of documenting our work and highlighting our young people’s voices. Throughout our history we have remained true to our original vision even as our programs and work have evolved and spread. In 2003 we published Voices of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, our second collection of our young people’s writings, their ideas, opinions, fears, beliefs, dreams and commitments. In 2006 we published the third collection, Off the Subject: The Words of the Lyrical Circle of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol featuring the poetry of our award-winning writers collective. In 2006 we published the first volume of our curriculum, Brother, Sister, Leader: The Official Curriculum of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, and in 2009 we published Why Did This Happen: Content, Perspective, Dialogue: A Workshop Model for Developing Young people’s Reflective Writing, a companion curriculum for our three collections of youth writings. We have created a training institute – Liberating Voices/Liberating Minds, (LVLM) – which allows us to spread the word and train the field. LVLM trains youth educators so they can effectively address the complex needs of Black and Latino youth and implement our approach to community collaboration in the youth development field. To date we have trained over 2000 educators from 250 schools and organizations from around the country.
The Brotherhood/Sister Sol has received national recognition for our model. Our program has continued to be highly successful: Our members achieve and excel in all documented outcome areas, far surpassing their similarly situated peers, and develop into informed leaders able to comment on the essential issues of the day. Due to this success, our leadership team has been asked to share their expertise by speaking at institutions that include the Ford Foundation, Heinz Foundation, 21st Century Foundation, Open Society Institute, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Yale Law School, Georgetown School of Law, Harvard Graduate School of Education, American Educational Research Association, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The City College of New York, ETS, Atlantic Philanthropies, and the National Principal leadership Institute, among others.
We have also received extensive media attention for our work. We have been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, MSNBC, NY 1, Fox, the New York Times, ABC, NBC, Huffington Post and many other outlets.
Now in our twenty-second year of work, Bro/Sis remains a community based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing youth into empowered critical thinkers and community leaders. 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. We provide access to opportunities and the knowledge on how to secure and navigate these opportunities in order to survive the conditions they face, and to build stable lives. As our founding mission statement reads: “The Brotherhood/Sister Sol is not simply an organization; more accurately, it’s a way of life. Providing youth with an opportunity to explore their ideas, identity and future among peers, with the support and guidance of their immediate elders, is a natural method of promoting positive development into adulthood.”