The inaugural cohort of the Forward Promise Fellowship for Leaders is comprised of 20 visionary individuals who are actively involved in supporting the healing of boys and young men of color (BYMOC) and their communities in a variety of ways. It consists of educators, researchers, healers, activists, and community organizers from diverse regions, sectors, backgrounds and experiences.
The Forward Promise Fellowship for Leaders builds upon the model of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Leadership for Better Health programs in that it seeks to develop strong, interdisciplinary networks of leaders from diverse backgrounds and sectors with a shared vision and desire to work together to build a culture of health. The Forward Promise Fellowship uniquely focuses on the needs and communities of BYMOC by supporting culturally responsive practices that buffer the effects of historical, systemic and racially-motivated trauma. Additionally, it seeks to create an intergenerational network of both emerging and experienced leaders to work together to share and develop their visions, build supportive relationships and increase their capacity to positively impact their communities.
Azza Altiraifi, Alexandria, VA
Azza Altiraifi serves as an organizer with the Justice for Muslims Collective (JMC), which works to combat institutional and structural Islamophobia in the DC metro area through political education, grassroots organizing and mobilizations, cross-movement building and community wellness programs. The JMC has a number of robust programs geared specifically towards Muslims who identify as women or femmes. Through the course of her advocacy work, Ms. Altiraifi has identified the need for carving out spaces for BYMOC who are multiply marginalized (Muslim, LGBTQIA, Disabled, d/Deaf, etc) to heal and transform. In this vein, Ms. Altiraifi is currently developing a workshop series designed to push participants to envision who they are outside of the structures of oppression by which we are all impacted. Incorporating a number of mediums (therapeutic tools) for healthy expression of pain, this series seeks to galvanize participants to envision what collective liberation means so that we can effectively build towards that future. The series also aims to facilitate the decolonization of healing to allow BYMOC to find their place in a transformative and accountable liberation movement. Ms. Altiraifi is a public speaker, activist and organizer who speaks and conducts workshops on issues related to disability justice, racial justice, immigration, and more.
Rabiatu Barrie, Ph.D., Chicago, IL
Rabiatu Barrie is an Assistant Professor at Adler University who uses her research and community engagement to help Black boys feel and believe they are powerful human beings. Dr. Barrie developed a curriculum called PRIDE (Promoting Resilience and Identity Development through Empowerment) to help AA boys ages 12-18 think critically about themselves as emerging men. The curriculum has been implemented in schools throughout Chicago serving over 300 young men. It includes restorative practices as a means to promote healing. She trains schools in Hyde Park and South Shore communities to provide services to the youth and to effectively engage in community building and restorative practice, as well as conflict resolution.
Tashel Bordere, Ph.D., Columbia, MO
Tashel Bordere serves as an Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Science and State Extension Specialist – Youth Development at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She conducts research and specializes in youth development, dying, loss & bereavement and African-American children, youth and families. Dr. Bordere’s participatory action research and programming areas are focused on Black male youth and family grief, survival and resilience due to historical and contemporary race-based trauma and sudden violent losses. She developed the concept of “suffocated grief” to describe the experiences of being penalized for normal grief responses based on stigma (stereotypes of black males as aggressive) and discrimination (punishment for normal emotional expression) in lieu of support and safe spaces for coping and connection. She also created the MU Extension Program – S.H.E.D. Loss and Grief Tools for Schools as a training in awareness, knowledge, and skill development for administrators, staff, counselors, and other professionals interfacing with marginalized youth and families in schools and communities.
Ariel Jimenez Bustos, San Jose, CA
Ariel Jimenez Bustos is the Coordinator for the National Compadres Network’s Joven Noble Youth Academy – A Forward Promise grantee. He is currently responsible for the hiring of youth who have completed probation and are affected by mental health and drug addiction to become peer mentors. The peer mentors then host/facilitate weekly circles for youth currently on probation. Mr. Jimenez also oversees the Joven Noble Youth Academy that involves three circles in three different communities; a four-stage rites of passage model and curriculum. Additionally, he is a coach for the Police Academy League and was responsible for negotiating youth participation in NCN’s Circle Keeper Process which involves culturally based activities to facilitate emotional, mental and spiritual health. Joven Noble Academy curriculum is used in programs nationally.
Marc Chavez, San Diego CA
Marc Chavez is the Director and Founder of InterTribal Youth, one of many youth programs he founded to work with and to heal severely marginalized communities in the U.S., specifically Indigenous youths. He donates over 70% of his professional time as Director of InterTribal Youth. Marc was born and raised in Los Angeles County, CA and is of Mexican-American Indian descent with degrees from UC San Diego in Communications, “Third World” Studies, and post-graduate research in Community Educational Linkages. Marc has over 20 years of experience in higher education, community linkages, and tourism. “Native Like Water” is his most recently developed initiative which focuses on youth/adult cultural exchange between ocean and freshwater land environments. It explores their sacred relationship to water and educates Indigenous youth and adult volunteers in science, outdoor education, conservation, wellness and cultural self-exploration. Young male participants address identity and their future as leaders of the Human Family, and youth are provided the opportunity to think, perform and interact on local, national and international grounds.
Daniel Chhum, Providence, RI
Daniel Chhum is the Community Defense Project (CDP) Coordinator for Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) in Providence, RI. The program aims to abolish police brutality and promote healing from violence inflicted by police with a focus on mental health. PrYSM is a Southeast Asian youth organization committed to fighting against all forms of state, community, and interpersonal violence. PrYSM practices healing by holding healing sessions and conducting individual check-ins with one another. The organization has also implemented measures to identify and address any toxic dynamics within the organization and provide spaces for self-care and healing for its workers. Mr. Chhum’s work includes coordinating community events geared toward building relationships and trust amongst community members. Additionally, the CDP program provides legal services to those directly affected by police violence. He is a second generation American born from first generation refugees that escaped from Cambodia during the uprising of the Khmer Rouge. His life experiences greatly inform and impact his work as a community leader.
Bryan Echols, Chicago, IL
Bryan Echols serves as Principal and Founder of BE. the Change Consulting. Bryan is a trained Restorative Justice (RJ) circle keeper who, in his role, creates space for youth leaders to emerge from the neighborhoods who are hardest hit with community violence, poverty, marginalization and divestment. The RJ circle practices are not only used to heal, but also to celebrate and at times, to interrupt violence. Healing and repairing harm is the ultimate goal of the healing circles. In cases of deeply rooted trauma, mental health professionals who are members of their Leadership Circle are engaged. Bryan is a trusted and well-respected leader in the BYMOC space. He is a native of the community he serves and is known for his willingness to be vulnerable and transparent.
Ricky Hurtado, Chapel Hill, NC
Ricky Hurtado is the Co-Executive Director of LatinxEd (formerly NC Scholars’ Latinx Initiative), a program designed for access to opportunity and healing for Latinx and immigrant youth in North Carolina. The program supports youth, including young men of color, to reclaim their cultural identity in traditional education spaces and to create a pathway to becoming college students and civic leaders. Ricky serves in a geographic region struggling with extreme demographic transformation and experiencing severe racial animosity towards immigrant enclaves that now call North Carolina home. Their program provides bi-weekly supports for immigrant families to have a safe space to embrace their culture, language and receive educational and emotional support to cope with the challenges that come with toxic stress of anti-immigrant attitudes and implicit bias in schools.
Robert Jackson, Oakland, CA
Robert Jackson is the founder and Executive Director of Beats Rhymes and Life (BRL), a community organization that provides culturally responsive therapeutic services for youth and BYMOC who are not receptive to traditional therapy. BRL’s programs provide culturally-congruent, strength-based, youth-centered approaches to healing, reducing the stigma around seeking therapeutic services in the communities we serve. Rob is a passionate community leader, educator, and multi-faceted artist who is intent on creating a community-based organization that identifies strategies to address socioeconomic injustices and mental health disparities. As a talented hip-hop artist, he brings a unique perspective in integrating the worlds of mental health and urban culture to effectively serve marginalized youth throughout the Bay Area.
William Jackson, Ph.D., Durham, NC
William Jackson is the founder and “Chief Dreamer” of Village of Wisdom that engages parents, school leaders, non-profit leaders and community members to recognize the negative cognitive implication of racial bias on black students. William works with these same stakeholders to build strategies that help Black youth navigate and heal from the racial bias they are exposed to, especially those that occur in educational environments. Through this work, he has led his team at Village of Wisdom to create tools designed to help youth heal from racial bias experiences, develop racial bias resilience capacities (e.g., racial comeback lines) and identify how their interests align with social justice activities: two such tools are the Racial Genius Profile and the Racial Stress Coping Plan.
Raymond A. Jetson, Baton Rouge, LA
Raymond A. Jetson is the Chief Executive Catalyst for MetroMorphosis, the driving force behind the signature initiative, the Urban Congress. In his role, Mr. Jetson uses his extensive network and reservoir of social capital – as a former legislator, pastor and other executive roles in state agencies, to deploy resources to support the goals of the organization. One aspect of his work is creating “safe spaces” for African-American males to give voice to the work in the community such as barbershop talks where they are intentional about incorporating “youth voice.” Mr. Jetson is an experienced leader and an important “connector” for intersectional collaboration between community members, stakeholders and systems.
Karla McCullough, Jackson, MS
Karla McCullough is the Co-Founder and Co-Project Director of the Ambassadors of the Evers Academy for African-American Males (A-TEAAM). She is also the Executive Director for the Juanita Sims Doty Foundation. Her work for the healing of BYMOC is focused on enabling them to create a parallel with historical references and their own lived experiences for the development of positive health, behavior, and outcomes. Karla has used her training in research and development to create a culturally responsive curriculum that uses the “Possible Selves (PS)” theory as the lens to encourage future-oriented thought. The curriculum is used to train a database of 200-300 active volunteers and mentors to successfully and effectively serve BYMOC across the country. She has also supported numerous programs across the state of Mississippi with program design for sports and academics, mentoring and peer-to-peer mentoring to assist BYMOC to heal and thrive.
Depelsha McGruder, Brooklyn, NY
Depelsha McGruder is the founder of Moms of Black Boys (MOBB) United, Inc., a grassroots organization and movement that emerged from a Facebook support group for moms of black boys in response to the daily trauma caused by black males being perpetually targeted, profiled, harassed and brutalized and to a number of incidents in recent years that garnered national attention. The group started with about 30 friends and has grown to now have 185,000 members. MOBB United has also been incorporated as a 501c3 and is focused on influencing narratives about BYMOC in order to impact how they are treated and perceived by law enforcement and society. Through seminars, webinars and other community initiatives and events, they provide resources to moms and their sons to help them feel empowered and to help them safely navigate the educational, criminal justice and mental health systems. Additionally, she has formed a 501c4, MOBB United for Social Change (MUSC), an advocacy organization focused on influencing policies impacting Black males and to employ a “rapid response” approach to speaking out on cases involving mistreatment and brutality by police.
Keith Miller, Savannah, GA
Keith Miller is the Program Director of Deep Center’s Block by Block program, a Forward Promise grantee. Keith is a researcher, teaching artist, village maker and storyteller who works to create “ecosystems of healing” for youths and adults, including BYMOC. In addition to Block by Block, a creative writing and youth leadership program that empowers youth to discover their own voices and uplift the stories of others to affect social change, Keith also created and manages The Pillow Talk Project, a website that features over 250 stories of young men of color that pushes people to rethink how they see men and to address toxic masculinity. The project uses storytelling, digital and social activism as its levers.
Andres Pacificar, Seattle, WA
Andres Pacificar serves as the Outreach Worker for Seattle YMCA, Accelerator. Andres was previously incarcerated for 18 years and uses his past traumatic experiences to facilitate the Alive & Free program for the YMCA that focuses on the healing of young men of color who are involved in the juvenile justice system and to give them guidance on how to navigate the system. Andres is considered a seasoned organizer and an elder in his community. He was previously a facilitator and leader of Leadership Advocacy Training for the immigration track for Southeast Asian Resource Center (SEARAC). Additionally, he returned to the prison where he was formerly incarcerated and founded the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group, which provides a healing and positive space within the institution.
Tavae Samuelu, Los Angeles, CA
Tavae Samuelu is the daughter of a pastor from Leulumoega and a nurse from Saleimoa in Sāmoa. As the Executive Director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), she’s a passionate advocate for Native Hawaiians & Pacific Islanders and is committed to liberation for all. Tavae was born and raised in Long Beach and moved to the Bay to attend UC Berkeley where she majored in Ethnic Studies. Before joining EPIC, she served as the Development Director for the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond and has since become a member of RYSE’s Board of Directors.
Teli Shabu, Durham, NC
Teli Shabu is the Executive Director of The Magic of African Rhythm (TMOAR) whose mission is to provide cultural programs to underserved and marginalized populations in order to revitalize community and self-image. For the past 20 years, TMOAR has conducted multi-disciplinary arts workshops through local and regional arts councils: drumming, drum making and repair clinics, dance, song, drama, literature, storytelling, textile design, and costume design during school residencies, in after-school programs, and in evening and weekend classes at community centers. TMOAR’s work is primarily with people of African descent and youth communities who lack these cultural arts opportunities. Teli teaches youth drumming classes with a focus on its connection to Hip Hop music, exposing them to the culture that birthed the popular music they now listen to in order to foster internalized pride. In addition to his work with youth, he is a storyteller with Whistle Stop Tours in Durham and a trained bedside musician and engages in a number of cultural programs in the community. Mr. Shabu is a respected, experienced elder, or Baba, in his community who brings an important aspect of cultural healing to the cohort.
Richard Smith, Brooklyn, NY
Richard Smith is an academic activist and wounded healer with nearly two decades of experience developing and implementing community-based programs to support the healing process of historically oppressed groups. Richard has worked with youth and adults impacted by the criminal justice system, violence, and trauma as both a case manager and program director in New York’s Capital District and the City of Boston. Richard has taught criminal justice, history, and social work courses as an Adjunct Professor at SUNY Empire State College, Sage College and LIU Brooklyn. He has guest lectured at numerous colleges and universities on issues such as systemic racism, mass incarceration, and trauma and healing. Richard is currently the National Director of HealingWorks, a learning collaborative created to build a field and a national movement committed to addressing the trauma and violence experienced by young men of color. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University at Albany in Africana Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree from Boston University in Sociology. He is presently a doctoral candidate at SUNY Albany’s School of Social Welfare. His research focus is male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. He is the proud father of two sons, Kaden (5 years.) and Kaleb (7 years).
Ron Walker, Lynn, MA
Ron Walker is the Founder/Executive Director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC). In his role, Ron has used COSEBOC’s national and regional platforms to design and implement programs and professional development activities to advance affirmative social, emotional, cultural and academic development of BYMOC. COSEBOC has pioneered regional gatherings in a number of states under the trademarked name, Trauma and Healing in the Village. Ron’s career spans 50 years as a teacher, leader, assistant principal, principal and director of national school improvement. COSEBOC also hosts a signature national gathering open to educators, community leaders, policy makers and other advocates.
Clifton Uckerman, Salt Lake City, UT
Clifton Uckerman, LCSW, is a therapist with Valley Behavioral Health, a community specialty clinic in Highland Springs that provides both in-office and telemental health services. Mr. Uckerman provides trauma-informed prevention and treatment of substance abuse/addiction and mental health disorders for individuals from late adolescence throughout their adult lifespan. He redeveloped and led two pods of 55-65 incarcerated men in a trauma/addiction treatment program using a leadership-oriented therapeutic community model and approach. His program philosophy incorporated a trauma-informed, historical, and cultural approach which involved the need for the construction of healthy masculinity, emotional intelligence, and relational self-empowerment. He now works with inmates upon their release with re-entry into the community. His own life experiences help him to authentically connect with these young men. His mission is to provide “essential behavioral health solutions to improve the quality of life and relationships of men and their families in his community.