When I walked to the Financial Square Building at 32 Old Slip St. in New York City earlier this summer, I cried. I couldn’t even fathom the idea that I would be interning for the U.S. Department of Education. As a 22-year-old kid from the urban streets of Indianapolis, I recently read an article that stated that my hometown has had more than 50 homicides alone this summer. As I stared at the building, I could only think of what my brother Brandon once said: “Durrell, you’re going to do big things in your life, you’re gonna be on TV or something and when you do, remember me, remember us.”
Reflecting on my life so far, I recall one moment that became the landmark that set forth my career path. In an Advanced Placement class one day during high school, I was confronted by a group of Caucasian students who didn’t understand how young Black males are misrepresented. I told them in an outburst that they didn’t know what it took to wake up to a neighborhood with no hope of ever having a positive role model to set the foundation for the future. That was more than five years ago, and if there is one thing that I’ve taken from that encounter, it is the knowledge that we African-American males need successful role models.
I came on board as a summer intern fully aware of President Obama’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, and how it echoes the words of the great W.E.B. DuBois, “Our community is going to be saved by exceptional men.” Having a black man as our President is historic, and President Obama’s announcement of My Brother’s Keeper is just as significant because he is showing us through his policies and his actions what we need to do to ensure that all children in America can reach their full potential.
My Brother’s Keeper is critical for turning around a community because it shows young males of African and Latino descent that they too have a place in this world of success. Today marks the third anniversary of Brandon’s death, and the first anniversary of my brother Bryce Barnes’s death. These are some of the few people that I’ve lost to the streets. This opportunity to be a role model while interning at the U.S. Department of Education has not only shaped me and the way I think, but has also helped to shape my actions as well moving forward. I am now more than ever determined to be My Brother’s Keeper. What we have asked for was an opportunity and a voice to display our pain and share our stories. My Brother’s Keeper is the initiative that will give young minority males that opportunity and help ensure that all young people, including young minority males, can reach their full potential.
Durrell Jamerson-Barnes is a summer intern in the New York Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. He attends Eastern Michigan University.