Gene Norman had just finished a long day at work — it was 2001, and Gene was working as a meteorologist for CBS-affiliate WGCL in Atlanta.

It was a Friday night, and a colleague of Gene’s was heading to a party once he left for the day.

“There was an event going on called the ‘Blue Lights in the Basement’ party near Underground Atlanta,” Gene says. “He [his friend] kind of dragged me to the event. We both worked in television, it was our last newscast and I just wanted to go home.”

But Gene obliged — luckily for him. If Gene hadn’t gone with his friend that evening, then he wouldn’t have met the love of his life.

The event was hosted by United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership.

AAP had only been formed a year prior. On Feb. 20, 2020, AAP celebrates its 20th Anniversary with its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon.

A few blocks away and a few hours prior to meeting Gene, Elaine Mitchell Norman, previous chief information officer of United Way of Greater Atlanta, was encouraged by a friend of hers to go to the event — it had been a “long, busy day” for her, as well.

“It was just one of those things,” Elaine says. “I had had a long, busy day, and I was like, ‘Oh, now I got to go to this thing.’ I had to rush home, get dressed and it seemed like just about everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong.
“I couldn’t get my stockings to cooperate, I couldn’t find a parking space. But I finally found the place, and as I walked in, the first thing I could see was this crowd of women and they were all pointing and looking, and I was like, ‘What’s happening over there?’”

Gene says he and his colleague were “fairly well known” — after all, they had been on TV every night that week. So, a crowd formed around the two of them.

“The event was great, and it was exciting,” he says. “They had lights and music and everything, so it was fun. I reached over and tapped this lady on the shoulder and said, ‘Would you like to dance?’”

The women in Elaine’s group were all talking about these two single guys from TV, and she says they were talking about Gene’s colleague when she felt the tap on her shoulder.

“I turn around, and it’s Gene Norman,” she says. “We started dancing, and right after we started, it felt like the lights came on for the event to be over. This was an event that usually went until around 2 a.m. or something, and this time it was around midnight.”

Gene didn’t want his time with Elaine to end, though. He asked her if she wanted to go out for coffee and dessert at Café Intermezzo.

“We talked and talked, and at some point, they actually came and tapped us on the shoulder to say it was closing time,” Gene says.

Elaine says the servers were looking at her with arms crossed, visibly upset. Unbeknownst to her, they had flipped over chairs, put them on the tabletops and closed the registers for the night. The two were the only people in the restaurant.

“It was like 4 a.m.,” Elaine says with a laugh. “We didn’t even know we had talked that long.”

Gene and Elaine parted ways that morning, but the two started dating and went on to get married about a year and a half later.

“We’ve been dancing together ever since,” Elaine says.

It’s been close to two decades since they met, and the two have moved on to other jobs and out of the area. They spent time in Houston before moving back to the Greater Atlanta region in the past few years. The 20th anniversary of AAP has given Gene and Elaine each a chance to reconnect with the organization they both used to be so involved in — a chance to give back to a group that has given them both so much.

“It’s because of AAP that I am now married,” Gene says.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership was established 20 years ago to engage an underrepresented population of United Way giving societies.

The partnership launched June 2000 under the African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community — there was also this real desire to make United Way’s donor base more reflective of the demographics in Atlanta where they serve. AAP committed itself to addressing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for African-American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta region by offering resources and mentorship.

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta. Currently, AAP has more than 1,000 members and raises more than $2 million annually.

That money feeds into United Way’s overall goal of improving the well-being of more than 250,000 children in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties by 2027.

To give back to your community and help power the potential of African-American boys and young men, join the African-American Partnership. Email to learn more.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership has about 1,000 members that bring in more than $2.6 million annually to the nonprofit.

But how did this affinity group grow to this size and get to this point?

Three of the group’s founding members met Nov. 15, 2019 to discuss AAP’s humble beginnings at a special breakfast for current and past AAP Cabinet members. The event was a part of AAP’s yearlong celebration of 20 years — AAP will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Feb. 20, 2020 at its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon.

On Nov. 15, Nan Thomas, AAP’s first director, Former Major Gifts Director Wes Wicker and former United Way intern Rev. Aaron McLeod met for a panel discussion about AAP’s formation.

“From my perspective, the story of AAP is a story of diversity and inclusion,” McLeod said. “I had the opportunity to work with Wes to bring this idea to fruition.
“We were trying to identify and make a business case for why we should endeavor to build this program, particularly to ensure our major gift giving was reflective of our demographics in Atlanta.”

Wicker says he came to Atlanta from another United Way in Indianapolis where he had collaborated previously with Charles Stephens and other fundraising professionals. Fast forward six years, and Wicker says he and Charles Stephens were each back in Atlanta.

Wicker says Stephens wanted to launch an African-American Initiative similar to one he had been a part of in Indianapolis. The two knew Atlanta had a real opportunity to be successful in this venture.

“We all knew that Atlanta is the mecca and hub of entrepreneurism and business in the African-American community, and perhaps the U.S.,” Wicker says. “If Indianapolis can do it, then certainly Atlanta can do it.”

The partnership launched June 2000 originally under the African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community — there was also this real desire to make United Way’s donor base more reflective of the demographics in Atlanta where they serve.

AAP committed itself to addressing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for African-American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta region by offering resources and mentorship.

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta.

Thomas was named AAP’s first director — she says she started the same night as a fundraising party, and she joked that was the night the party ended.

Thomas says while staff was “slim,” everybody was willing to help one another. She was thankful for volunteers and interns like McLeod and then leadership like Wicker.

She said AAP had to engage in a lot of discussion throughout the African-American community — unfortunately, the discussion wasn’t always “positive.”

“United Way didn’t always enjoy a positive reputation,” Thomas says. “There were people who remembered when United Way wasn’t African-American friendly. They would say things like, ‘I remember when it was two different fundraising events and black folks raised money over here, white folks raised money over there.’”

But Thomas believed in the potential of this partnership, and that’s what drove her.

“If you know what you’re selling is good, you’ll convince a lot of people a lot of things,” Thomas says. “That’s what we did.”

McLeod says the group identified peers and their corporations and affinity groups and asked them to “join their endeavor.”

“We overcame some hard questions, but we were from the tribe of ‘figure it out,’” he says. “The efficiency of scale got better over the years. I can’t believe how it has grown and been sustainable over the years.”

Thomas says that “everybody had a place” in the formation of AAP. She thanked Aaron for being a champion for AAP and engaging in discussions with local community leaders and business owners.

Wicker agreed with Thomas.

“When Aaron first came into my department as an intern, he was a young, 20-year-old, incredibly shy guy,” Wicker says. “It’s somewhat humorous today that he’s a preacher in Chicago.”

McLeod talks about that first gift AAP received.

“I’ll never forget the first person to sign up — his name was Ken Samuels,” McLeod says. “He came in with a silver briefcase. [Former United Way CEO] Mark O’Connell was very interested in understanding why [Samuels] was making his gift. He asked him, ‘Why are you giving?’ and he said, ‘Because it’s my responsibility to show up and make sure [the African-American community is] doing [its] part.’”

Thomas said it was humbling to see the growth spanning two decades. She said it has been a “great ride,” and she thanked all of those people in attendance.

McLeod said he was gracious for the opportunity to serve United Way and thankful for the opportunity to grow and develop at United Way as a young intern. He was thankful, again, to be included in this story of diversity and culture change at United Way.

“You never know the impact of being able to see somebody who looks like you,” McLeod says. “I can’t say again how proud I am to see the diversity of the room, and not only of the Atlanta business community, but United Way as well — it means a lot to me that we’ve got a black man as CEO of this organization.
“I ask that you continue to give and be a presence, and show up and watch our community continue to grow and be safe.”

The Rev. Aaron J. McLeod enters through the lobby of Lowdermilk Conference Center at 40 Courtland St. NE. at the new offices of United Way of Greater Atlanta.

McLeod hasn’t been in the new facility, and he hasn’t been to United Way in years. He works now as a reverend and attorney in Chicago, Illinois. But, long before that, while he was still a business student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, McLeod worked as an intern and one of the founders of the African-American Partnership Affinity Group at United Way.

McLeod makes his way up the stairs to a meeting room where he’s supposed to find present and past AAP members in an anniversary breakfast for the group’s 20th year. He turns the corner at the top of the stairs and one of the major gift officers points McLeod to an adjacent room. Once he enters the room, he sees former director of Major Gifts Wes Wicker and the first-ever director of AAP Nan Thomas.

Wicker stands up in his chair, and McLeod embraces his friend and then Thomas, the three of them exclaim how great it is to see one another again.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership was established 20 years ago to engage an underrepresented population of United Way giving societies.

APP celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with its fifth-annual Leadership Luncheon on Feb. 29, 2020.

The partnership launched June 2000 under an African American Initiative moniker by Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens with the purpose of increasing financial participation and volunteers from our community — there was also this real desire to make United Way’s donor base more reflective of the demographics in Atlanta where they serve. AAP committed itself to addressing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for African-American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta region by offering resources and mentorship.

AAP is open to donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service, and members of AAP donate $1,000 a year or more to United Way of Greater Atlanta. Currently, AAP has more than 1,000 members and raises more than $2 million annually.

It’s by chance that McLeod was able to make this appearance, he says.

“By chance, I picked up the phone call from [AAP Director] Bryan Vinson telling me about these yearlong planned events to celebrate the 20 years of AAP, and he just made my morning,” McLeod says.

He was proud to see how the group’s initial work had come “full circle.”

“To see the quality of work that has transpired over the years — the community vision that I was fortunate to be a part of — is still in fruition today is humbling,” McLeod says.

McLeod says when the group first launched AAP, some of the biggest challenges were getting a buy-in from the staff and community. At the time, he saw how the organization’s Women’s Initiative had been flourishing, and similarly, the African-American community wanted to be a part of the “movers and shakers in the business community” and run a similarly reputable program.

McLeod started as an intern at United Way as an underclassman at Morehouse, and he said United Way was “the opportunity that [he] had” at the time.

“We had brothers going to Wall Street, we had brothers going downtown Peachtree Street to the banking world,” McLeod says. “Normally as an underclassman, you wouldn’t receive an internship, and I was fortunate enough instead of charting pathways or trails within the for-profit sector, I cut my teeth in the nonprofit sector.”

McLeod interned for four summers at the “leading nonprofit in the Atlanta business community.”

When working to build AAP, McLeod said he worked to remove any previous misconceptions about the old United Way.

“United Way was historically very white, very powerful and very successful,” he says. “As we were trying to champion diversity, we were, at that time, starting to make some headway. It was all about providing access to business leadership.”

McLeod says there was initial skepticism about AAP from white and black employees at United Way, but this opened up discussions and allowed more people to have input on the tone of printed materials and messaging for the group.

He said he and Wicker and Thomas met regularly with the likes of Robinson, Stephens and Dr. Johnnetta Cole to ensure the group was pushing to “reach African-Americans within this space.”

“We had very pointed conversations about having targets that were achievable and those that were unachievable that went past our comfortability when looking for people to give at the leadership level, minimally,” he says. “What it showed was our team cared, and they wanted to be engaged, and they wanted AAP to be successful. We were just working diligently. Nobody was trying to thwart anything.”

There was a lot of ingenuity and “bootstrapping” to ensure the program was done right, McLeod says. He said he and other fundraisers went into the African-American community to find people to champion the initiative.

McLeod encourages others to join AAP. Members benefit directly from networking and, most importantly, they get a seat at the table where you can volunteer and have an impact on different investments in your community, he says.

So, fast-forward 20 years later, McLeod is proud of how far AAP has come. He sees a level of leadership and strength that he thinks will only continue to grow.

“When you work with quality people, have a top-notch vision that is rooted in selflessness and this whole notion of pooling our resources together— if you do something for someone along the way, your living won’t be in vain,” he says. “The life of AAP is flourishing, and it will continue to flourish for years because it is rooted in something that is very, very good.”

By Maya Robinson

On December 4th a group of Wells Fargo employees took time out of their day to volunteer at AAP Build-A-Library Site, Raising Expectations. The group was organized by AAP Cabinet Member and Wells Fargo Senior Vice President, Hugh Rowden and his colleague Tammy Sanders.

“What is the difference between a checking account and a savings account? How old do you have to be to open your own savings account? How many types of savings accounts should you have as an adult?”

Those were just a few of the questions that volunteers from Wells Fargo asked the sixth grade students from the Raising Expectations afterschool program. By the end of their hour and a half session, the students were correctly answering questions about banking, money, and saving. The Wells Fargo volunteers, Linda Brown and John Stork, made the lesson fun and interactive with videos and prizes for each correct answer. At the end of the lesson, Wells Fargo presented the students with copies of Beating the Odds: Eddie Brown’s Investing and Life Strategies.

While the six graders were trained on financial literacy, two groups of Wells Fargo volunteers were busy with the younger students on more age appropriate projects. The fourth and fifth graders assembled care packages with special notes for local senior citizens. The contents of the care packages were donated by Raising Expectations and Wells Fargo.

The youngest students spent the afternoon reading aloud with Wells Fargo volunteers. The students who were old enough to read themselves chose their favorite books to read to the volunteers. Research shows that reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development.

To celebrate a successful afternoon of learning and volunteering, Bruster’s Ice Cream treated everyone to an ice cream sundae bar, thanks to Wells Fargo. Financial literacy and ice cream made the perfect pair!

Raising Expectations has been a long-time Build-A-Library site for AAP and grantee for Powering the Potential. Raising Expectations provides impactful youth development programming for youth in Atlanta communities. It is unique among out-of-school time (OST) programs in that it is longitudinal in its relationship with students. Students begin their relationship with Raising Expectations as middle school students and continue as they matriculate through secondary and embark upon their post-secondary plans.

If your company or group would like to volunteer at a Build-A-Library site, a staff member will be happy to coordinate.

#WhyWednesday: Dr. Tameeka Law Walker

Meet Dr. Tameeka Law Walker of Georgia Perinatal Consultants. Why does she invest in Greater Atlanta’s future as a member of our Tocqueville Society and African-American Partnership? For Dr. Law Walker, it’s personal.

Today, hear Dr. Law Walker share the why behind her commitment to her community.

Why child well-being? When children thrive, communities thrive. Across Greater Atlanta, volunteers, donors and community advocates are rallying around the Child Well-Being Movement – so that our region can be a place where every child, regardless of zip code, can reach their full potential. Right now, nearly half a million children in Greater Atlanta live in areas with low or very low child well-being scores. But together, we can change that! Learn how you can get involved.

African-American Partnership Cabinet Member Spotlight:
Angela Anderson
Controller, Southern Education Foundation

AAP: Tell us about your role at Southern Education Foundation and how you impact the company’s strategic goals.

Angela: Our mission at the Southern Education Foundation is to advance creative solutions to ensure equity and excellence in education for students of color and low-income students in the South. As controller, I help to ensure that our organization remains fiscally responsible and maintains accurate financial data. As we apply for various grants, the data I help provide demonstrates that our organization has been a good steward of the funds we have been entrusted to handle.

AAP: What advice would you give to someone wanting a career in finance?

Angela: There are rewarding aspects of working in finance. Your role requires that you have an overview of everything going on within the organization. You must understand funding priorities and return on investments from two viewpoints: financial as well as how people are impacted. Though you are working with numbers, you have to remember just numbers alone won’t tell the full story.

AAP: How did you navigate a transition from the for profit to the nonprofit sector?

Angela: The for profit and nonprofit sectors are very similar. Numbers are numbers regardless of where you work. There are revenues and expenses. The major difference with the nonprofit sector is your work benefits stakeholders not stockholders. Stakeholders include individuals and organizations that support Southern Education Foundation as well as the individuals that are served by Southern Education Foundation.

AAP: What sparked your interest in philanthropy and why did you become an AAP Cabinet member?
Angela: I started volunteering for community organizations at the age of 18. After entering the workforce full time in my early 20’s, I saw contributing my time, my talent, and my tenth as a privilege. For the last 20 years, I’ve served organizations focusing on women and children and mental health. I became an AAP member while working for Genuine Parts Company in 2014. What I love about AAP is the ability to see exactly where your dollars go. You can also give your time and talent by volunteering directly with those you are supporting financially, which is very rewarding!

AAP: Who is your favorite American trailblazer that serves as a source of inspiration to you?
Angela: The first woman president and alumna of Johnson C. Smith University, Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy is my favorite American trailblazer and source of inspiration. I had the privilege of taking several of Yancy’s courses at Georgia Institute of Technology. She inspired me to do my best, be myself and show integrity regardless of what those around me say and do.

AAP & Tocqueville Society Member Spotlight: Myra Bierria

AAP and Tocqueville Society Member Spotlight
Myra Bierria
Vice President and Corporate Secretary, Southern Company

Tell us about your role at Southern Company and how you impact the company’s strategic goals?
Myra: My role is Vice President and Corporate Secretary for the Southern Company. One of my core responsibilities is to provide legal and administrative support to the Board of Directors and executive management. My day-to-day activities can range from providing legal advice to the Board of Directors or executive management concerning corporate governance matters to planning logistics down to the last detail for a Board meeting. Southern Company is committed to provide clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to our customers and communities. Sound corporate governance policies and practices are an important part of Southern’s strategy, consistent with the increasing focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters as they relate to the energy industry.

What advice would you give to someone wanting a career in corporate law?
Myra: Earning a law degree is a significant investment of time and resources, but the education and development of analytical skills are well worth it. If you can take time off after undergrad and work in either a law office or corporate environment, it may be helpful in determining whether a law degree is something you really need or desire. As far as practicing corporate law specifically, I’d advise a person to get as much experience as possible at a law firm before moving in-house to a corporate law department. The diverse mix of clients one has the opportunity to advise in a law firm prepares potential in-house lawyers to handle the wide range of legal issues that may come up in a corporation.

If you were to choose another career path, what would it be?
Myra: If I could change my career, I would choose to be an American History professor. I enjoy teaching others and am fascinated with what we can learn from our country’s past and how lessons learned can and will impact our future.

What sparked your interest in philanthropy and why did you become a United Way Tocqueville Society member?
Myra: I was raised in a working-class family. Although an excess of resources was not the norm, my parents taught us to be charitable with our time and whatever financial contribution we could spare. The United Way is one of the first organizations I can recall providing small but, to our family, meaningful donations. Further, the 100 Black Men’s Young Black Scholars program as well as the Girl Scouts program would not have been available to me without the generosity of others. Each of these programs played a critical role in my college and career choices. Being a member of the United Way Tocqueville Society is a logical way for me to pay it forward. Fortunately for me, my company had a step-up program that allowed me to join the Tocqueville Society early in my career and increase my donations over time.

Who is your favorite American trailblazer that serves as a source of inspiration to you?
Myra: My favorite American trailblazer for the longest time has been Justice Thurgood Marshall. More recently, I’ve added First Lady Michelle Obama. Both Marshall and Obama overcame extreme adversity with success not just as individuals but as public figures as part of a larger organization with a significant positive impact on our society. In the legal field, Justice Marshall successfully litigated pivotal desegregation cases in front of our country’s highest court, which he would later serve on. He persevered despite the challenging racial tension of his times and in spite of threats to his personal safety. Similarly, First Lady Obama as part of the executive administration and as a high-profile educated career woman and mother of two served our country with dignity and grace despite unimaginable obstacles.  I’m inspired by her resolve and determination to have a positive impact on the health of children while serving as a role model for women.

African-American Partnership (AAP) Cabinet members and professionals from around Atlanta recently volunteered as mentors for the Georgia State Early College Program Professional Luncheon. Through 9 workshops over a 3-day period, the volunteers shared details of their college experience and career path to approximately 100 dual enrolled high school students.

By taking college courses in the 11th and 12th grades, these students are already ahead of the pack. Nonetheless, it can be a stressful period. The career exposure from seasoned professionals is helpful to students as they determine their own career path. Mentors were extremely impressed with the desire these young adults have to become successful. Several students engaged mentors in dialogue about non-traditional revenue opportunities like wholesale real estate sales and paper stock market trading to supplement income.

Dr. Tene Davis, Associate Director of the Early College Program at Georgia State University, explained that the professionals that participated in the luncheon are “the light at the end of the tunnel” for the students that are taking on the challenge of being a high school and college student at the same time. The students came from early college program high schools at Therrell High School, Maynard Jackson High School, Booker T. Washington High School, Carver High School, and Decatur Early College Academy.

When asked why he always makes himself available to participate in mentoring and networking events, Hugh Rowden, SVP at Wells Fargo Company, spoke passionately about the importance for African-American professional men to be there for the next generation. “Once you reach a certain level in your career, your platform is not about you,” said Hugh.

Zaria Echols, one of the dual enrolled students at the luncheon, found the sessions very helpful. She “learned that I should be open to change; and I realized that because of technology, some jobs may be done by robots in the future.” She now sees that she should be more open to travel and study abroad programs. After graduating she wants to become a Radiologist. Currently, she is a junior at Maynard Jackson High School.

AAP Cabinet Member Spotlight: Troy Felder
Human Resources Manager, Genuine Parts Company

AAP: Tell us about your role at Genuine Parts and how you impact the company’s strategic goals.

Troy: I have been with GPC for 5 years, the last 2 years have been in my current role of Sr. HRBP, where I currently support GPC IT & Financial Shared Services. I impact GPC’s strategic human capital objectives, by partnering with our senior leaders on solutions in talent acquisition, retention and succession planning for a high performing workforce. As a certified facilitator, I am actively involved in learning & development activities that also encourages employees to take ownership of their careers. This type approach to career planning is beneficial to them personally and to the organization.

AAP: What advice would you give to someone wanting a career in human resources (or more specific aspect of HR)?

Troy: My professional career began in retail management, before I transitioned to HR. That experience taught me the importance of building and maintaining relationships. This remains my philosophy as a HRBP. As a business partner, I would encourage someone starting their HR career to do more than manage policies and procedures but manage relationship and seek exposure. I once read that, “60% of your career success depends on who you know and more importantly, who knows what you know.

AAP: What aspect of United Way’s work in the community are you most passionate about supporting?

Troy: Income: financial education and job readiness training specifically. I have toured the City of Refuge 4 or more times. I was there when the first AutoTech class started in the NAPA training center and hired one of the first graduates in a NAPA retail store. To hear that programs have been added in home security and pest control are exciting and gratifying!

AAP: Who is your favorite African-American trailblazer that serves as a source of inspiration to you?

Troy: Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall – Justice Marshall accomplished so many firsts in his life. I am often told; I could be a lawyer in a different life. There are many quotes that come to mind, when reflecting on our current affairs. Instead, I will lean towards the work of AAP: children & communities. “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” Thurgood Marshall

On a warm September afternoon in the beautiful gardens of the Historic Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta’s West End community, thirteen middle- and high school-age Atlanta males celebrated an incredible feat—releasing original works as published authors.

“Boys, Books, & Brotherhood,” a special initiative led by Atlanta-based nonprofit, Raising Expectations, inspired teenage boys living on Atlanta’s westside to improve their reading and writing abilities while learning critical thinking and communication skills. The United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African American Partnership funded the initiative which provided participants with age-appropriate books and positive, male mentors.

“It is important for our young men to explore the world and their emotions. Boys, Books, & Brotherhood provided them with the space and opportunity to do that through reading and writing,” shared Raising Expectations co-founder Maria Armstrong.

“Boys, Books, & Brotherhood” participants worked closely with volunteers from the Eta Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity during the initiative which involved regular meetings after school and some Saturdays. Alpha Phi Alpha volunteers read books with the boys, discussed readings with them, and provided ongoing support and mentorship during the boys’ creative writing process.

At the book release party, longtime Raising Expectations participant, 12th grader Michael Thomas, expressed the gravity of the event with attendees. “The images I see of young men that look like me in the news are not usually positive. Too often, I see young men involved in crime or being killed for no reason. Today is different. Today, we are celebrating thirteen young African American men who are now published authors!” he shared with an enthusiastic crowd that included parents, community leaders, and supporters.

Through a partnership with the nonprofit Young Authors Publishing, “Boys, Books, & Brotherhood” participants were able to write their own books and have them published. Titles like “Jirou’s Journey to Friendship,” “Never Give Up,” and “Back Off, Bully!” provided a glimpse into the lives and experiences of each young man. Their writings expose challenges, goals, wisdom, and reflections of their own lives while inspiring readers.

Proceeds from book sales go into education fund accounts held by Citizens Trust Bank for each young man. Funds can be used for expenses associated with post-secondary education or credentialed career training programs. For a listing of books written by “Boys, Books & Brotherhood” participants and ways to purchase, visit