STRENGTHEN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM TO PROVIDE EQUITABLE RESOURCES, OPPORTUNITIES AND STUDENT-CENTERED APPROACHES THAT PREPARE EVEN OUR MOST VULNERABLE YOUTH FOR POST-SECONDARY OPPORTUNITIES, CAREER AND LIFE.
Inspiration abounds at the Social Justice Learning Institute. Outside is a garden in full bloom. Inside young men weave in and out of rooms humming with activity. Amid legendary images of Muhammad Ali training underwater and Tommy Smith and John Carlos with their fists raised high in solidarity at the 1968 Olympics, sits Ahmir Bates. Now he is a rising college sophomore, but there was a time when he didn’t think he would get into college, nor was he sure he could afford it. Today everything is different. “BLOOM is the reason I am in college,” Ahmir says with a confident smile.
Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, President and CEO of the Social Justice Learning Institute and Charisse Bremond Weaver, President and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade
Ahmir is one of hundreds of young men to transform their lives and the future of Los Angeles through BLOOM (Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men). Launched in 2012 by the California Community Foundation (CCF) in partnership with the Social Justice Learning Institute and the Brotherhood Crusade, BLOOM was a seven-million-dollar initiative to address the overwhelming disparities faced by Black male youth involved or at risk of becoming involved in L.A. County’s juvenile justice system. Youth enrolled in BLOOM programs at both nonprofits work intensively on cultural awareness, positive self-identity and discovery and aspiration development while receiving academic and college assistance, employment training, economic empowerment and other necessary resources.
Over seven years, BLOOM has knit together a program model that helps Black boys and young men uncover their true potential. Though the initiative was not without its challenges, our partners worked hard, were patient, took smart risks and committed themselves to learning along the way.
These lessons have been a gamechanger for Charisse Bremond Weaver, president and CEO of Brotherhood Crusade. “Through this partnership with CCF, we helped transform our young men’s mindsets. We helped them heal from their traumas, allowing them to understand what it means to better themselves and their lives, to grow and to thrive. And we’ve been able to demonstrate that success through an evidence-based model.”
The evidence of BLOOM’s impact is undeniable. BLOOM has served more than 800 young boys and men, and the vast majority have gone on to earn high school diplomas with the prerequisites to attend a post-secondary institution.
Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza
President and CEO of the Social Justice Learning Institute
Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, president and CEO of the Social Justice Learning Institute believes, “These are powerful data points that describe the importance of BLOOM. They’re a testament to the difference these resources have made in the lives of our young folk. It’s proof that such a small investment can do wonders.”
Incarcerating just one young man for a year costs the state of California more than $280,000. BLOOM demonstrates how, for around $5,000, we can keep that same young person out of the system. As a community, that’s a lot to celebrate.
Part of BLOOM’s success stems from it being a community-driven initiative. CCF never tried to lead by themselves, but rather enabled the success of those who are closest to the young men involved and the communities in which they live. BLOOM’s advisory committee engaged key partners, such as funders, community leaders, grantees and public agencies like the probation department and school districts. This gave our partners a meaningful role in the process while informing the path BLOOM would take.
“The advisory committee was a group of people who really cared about the community and had a deep knowledge of its needs and assets,” said Virgil Roberts, a BLOOM advisory committee member and former CCF board chair. “They were vital to ensuring that BLOOM had real substance. That ultimately has made a huge difference in our success.”
The Obama administration recognized BLOOM as a promising model to be replicated nationally. Here in Los Angeles, the L.A. County Probation Department agrees. This year, the Probation Department partnered with CCF and Liberty Hill Foundation to create Ready to Rise, a public-private partnership that will scale the lessons of BLOOM and its whole child approach to learning and youth development across the County.
In a matter of a few years, BLOOM will be stitched into the fabric of L.A. County, building up the resiliency of young people from all walks of life. It will continue changing the lives of youth like Ahmir, who dreams of graduating from Miles College in Alabama and coming back home so he can be an aid to members of his community.
“I not only want to hold them up, but also give them the opportunity to where they can hold themselves up,” Ahmir said. “I want to be a stepping stone to their greatness.”