Khary Lazarre-White sat down with NYN media to speak more about the nonprofit’s work and how a new six-story building in Harlem is helping expand its programming.
Khary Lazarre-White and his childhood best friend, Jason Warwin, while seniors in college envisioned creating a supportive space for young Black and brown people to thrive back in 1995. What was once a vision became a reality soon after. Both founded The Brotherhood Sister Sol to offer young men and women comprehensive support that they saw was lacking in the community. Today, with a new six-story building in Harlem, the nonprofit is providing leadership development programming for the young people it serves. The Brotherhood Sister Sol also just raised $1.7 million at their annual gala to continue supporting their award-winning and internationally recognized youth programming.
Lazarre-White, who also serves as The Brotherhood Sister Sol’s executive director, sat down with NYN Media to discuss the history of the organization, the importance of serving Black and Latinx youth in New York City and lessons learned from COVID-19.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you and Jason Warwin to start BroSis? And why did you want to focus on young people, particularly Black and Latinx youth?
Jason Warwin and I created the institution because we felt that young people needed a space. It was focused on their support and their guidance. Having an organization that was based in providing educational access and opportunities to young people so that they can develop their own agency was really important to us. Alongside having people develop their critical thinking skills that young people are exposed to in the workforce, college and international study. We just realized that there was a great need and because there was a dearth of holistic support systems for young people. When we created the organization, you’ll notice it came from a space of being deeply entrepreneurial and that we didn’t want to just kind of join another nonprofit but wanted to create a place that had a different energy to it. We don’t really see BroSis as a nonprofit. Obviously, we are a nonprofit, but we see ourselves as a community, a space where we’re really providing wrap-around comprehensive support for young people, and building a family and building a space that’s based in love for our community, love for our people, love for justice.
COVID-19 was a challenging time for everyone, especially non-profits. What challenges did BroSis face, how did you overcome those challenges and what are some lessons learned?
We responded to COVID putting young people front and center. We asked our young people at the forefront of COVID what they needed to navigate that time and the first thing they said they needed was computers and hotspots so that they could learn online. That’s what they were being asked to do and so we provided hundreds of computers and hot spots, that was the first thing. The second thing was that they needed financial support, folks who are low income, were losing jobs and unable to pay crucial bills. And so, we provided direct financial services to our members and to our alumni as well. The third thing was food insecurity, and in terms of food insecurity we started off feeding about 70 families from our youth orbit. And this wasn’t just about hot meals, but bags and boxes of groceries. The general community said they needed support as well and it grew to providing 500 families, essentially every week, with bags and boxes of groceries. We did it for two years, providing 1.1 million meals to our community, hoping to hold and support our community over that two-year period. I think the other area of real growth during COVID was around mental health support. You know, there’s a crisis of mental health issues, with our young people, across the country, and the United States surgeon general just came out with that report. And so we’ve expanded in an array of ways during the crisis mental health support for our young people.
What do you think makes BroSis stand out from other organizations and what keeps the wheels turning?
It was formally founded in 1995, Jason and I began to work on it when we were seniors in college. But it wasn’t a nonprofit. It was founded as a non-profit in New York City in 1995. And I think a few things have kept it really consistent since then. One is consistency of mission. You look at our mission statements since our founding, you look at our theory of change since our founding, you look at our executive statements, it’s unbelievably consistent from the beginning. And I think the mission alignment has been a really important piece. The second has been that over half of our full-time staff of our organization are alumni of the organization and I think having that institutional memory of adults who went through the program and were supported by the program now returning to educate the next generation has been centrally important as well. The third is that we’re very intentionally focused every year reflecting on our work. What’s going well? What isn’t going well? How do we remain consistent and high level in terms of what we’re doing for young people? How do we ensure that our work continues to be surrounded with support and guidance? Just constantly returning to that same kind of culture, and ethos of the institution.
BroSis just opened a new building. What opportunities does this new site bring to the young people in the neighborhood?
The new building is 22,000 square feet. It is a building that’s a beacon really focused on the enlightenment and transformation of young people. I think the message it sends every day is young people are important and that they deserve a beautiful space for their education and their organizing. It’s critically important that Black and brown youth feel that and are told that every day and I think our building does that. It allows us to expand our work to educate more young people, to train more folks for change and justice, and to organize more. So it just really allows us to deepen and expand our work. It’s a critically important building for the city of New York and I think it’s a model for the country of what out-of-school time engagement should look like.
BroSis also just raised $1.7million. What does this funding mean for the organization?
The gala raises close to 25% of our programmatic funding for the year. It’s a huge piece to the kind of puzzle that is put together. It provides funding for an organization of our size. It’s very difficult to raise money in the private sector and even sometimes in the government space for organizations that serve low-income Black and brown children. So the gala is one way for us to draw attention to our work to bring individual supporters to our orbit. And it’s critically important to our financial security. It helps to propel so much of our programming for the year. It’s our most successful night of speeches from our young people ever made, beautiful, powerful poetry from our alumni, and several really wonderful videos. We honored somebody who’s an alumni of the organization, Elizabeth Acevedo, The New York Times bestselling author gave a wonderful, powerful speech and then Jason and I were honored as co-founders of the organization. So it was a really beautiful and wonderful evening.
What do you envision for the future of Black and Latinx youth in New York City?
In terms of legacy I think BroSis is an organization that’s unapologetically a political organization focused on serving young Black and Latinx youth and is focused on their transformation. I think that kind of mission alignment that focuses on understanding the political realities of our country so that there can be social change is part of the historic legacy that we’re a part of and we want that to be our future legacy as well. There will be no powerful future for the city without a powerful future for low income, Black and brown young people. It’s an essential constituent in this city, it’s what makes New York so special. The diversity, the complexity of this city. We don’t see the helping and supporting of Black and Latinx youth as an add-on, it’s actually essential to the strength of New York City.