Through the guidance and mentorship of my two chapter leaders, Jason and Khary, I had the privilege to attend Wesleyan University for my undergraduate education. I know for sure without their help I would never have this opportunity.
On the day I was packing for school I found my mother sitting at the end of the hallway of our apartment. She was silently weeping as she folded a shirt of mine and tucked it away into my suitcase. I went over and sat beside her for comfort. I knew those tears where of joy and sadness. She was happy for what I had accomplished. I was the first in my family to head off to college. I asked her, “You want me to stay? Are you sad I’m leaving?” She responded, “ No, I’m happy. Children aren’t here for their parents, they are here to fly.”
After graduating from Wesleyan University I started working full time at Bro/Sis. First as a Chapter Leader and now the Coordinator of the After School Program for elementary age youth. I also facilitate arts programming for that population. About 10 years ago I taught a lesson on the African American oral storytelling tradition. I told the members of the folklore, “The People Could Fly,” which goes something like this:
Before slave ships landed on the western coast of continental Africa people had magical abilities, such abilities that they could fly. What they experienced on packed slave ships across the Atlantic ocean was so dehumanizing it ripped the spirit apart. They could no longer see the magic in life and felt it leaving the moment they stepped foot onto U.S. soil. But there were a few people who preserved their magic in the hope of a better today.
One day a mother was working on the plantation with her baby wrapped to her back. The baby started to cry. The overseer took his wip and struck the baby on her back. The baby cried even more. The overseer struck the baby again. At that point the mother yelled to her father, “Now it’s time! Take us back home!” With the last bit of hope that remained in his spirit, he began to remember. He then lifted up his hands and spoke his words of magic. Everyone that could hear him speak began to fly away. They all flew back home to their families never to be seen working on the plantation again. Everyone else who wasn’t within earshot had to find their way back home to freedom, but by foot.
Members then created their own stories and painted a mural on the wall of the basement of our brownstone depicting this story.
Before the demolition of our beloved brownstone, Khary had posted a picture of the mural expressing how much he loved it and how sad he was to see it go. Days before the demolition occurred, I went to the basement of the brownstone and cut the mural off the wall. It is now mounted up in a frame and can be seen hanging up in the lobby of our temporary space waiting for its home in our new building.
In the same way that the organization preserves youth for their futures, this act of mural preservation sums up my 25 years of my experience at Bro/Sis. It depicts a time when the people could fly. Today Bro/Sis is where The People Fly. Where that magic is restored. Where hope is found. Where love is real. Because of Bro/Sis’ commitment to youth, providing access, guidance, opportunities and love, my mother was able to see her child fly as far as my heart can soar.
– Ralphie Santiago, Alumni Member & After School Coordinator