And teaches young men useful business skills in the process
By Dwight Hobbes
Brotherhood, Inc. of Saint Paul puts into effect an idea whose time, as the saying goes, certainly has come. It’s one thing to offer job training to those on society’s sidelines, preparing them to get into the mainstream. Laudable as that is, it’s another thing altogether to, on top of job readiness, actually provide gainful employment.
Better yet, not a stopgap job like hauling boxes around in a stockroom, but something with a potential future to it. Brotherhood, Inc., fashioned along the lines of Homeboy Industries of Los Angeles, takes on young men who’ve wound up in gangs or otherwise on the wrong side of the criminal justice system, intervening with the opportunity to salvage their lives.
They do that by learning retail top to bottom, from maintaining inventory to managing the business to providing thorough, hands-on customer service and product support — and, importantly, working in that field for the program’s innovative offshoot, Brotherhood Brew. The product — organic coffee, teas, and hot chocolate — is marketed to businesses, nonprofits, government offices, educational institutions and individuals in the private sector.
Meeting with some of the staff at their office suite on 625 University Ave., it’s impressive to find the approach is one of basic, fundamental nuts and bolts. To a one, they agree that the key to their success has been preparation that teaches them to start with the most elemental aspects.
Kenntrail Marshall, 18, could be considered a blueprint model. His expression guarded, the young Mr. Marshall is not quite in his element talking to the press in a semi-formal setting. He is, however, game.
“I’ve been learning,” he states, “how to talk to people in business. How to present myself.” It is, he acknowledges, a matter of being literally remade.
After being accustomed to running the streets, living up to one set of expectations, the imperative is to meet about as tough a challenge as one can encounter, changing ingrained behavior. After all, the skill set that saw you through thug life is going to be a stone around your neck in civilized surroundings. That includes pulling your pants up over your underwear, turning your cap around frontward, and adapting a profanity-free, grammatically sound vocabulary.
Kenntrail is also handling the routine necessities of remedial education. “I’m going back to school, right now. To get my diploma.” He adds, “I’m thankful for this chance.” Having gratitude in his attitude can only help.
Christian Bonner, in addition to participating in this program as its top salesman, is studying culinary arts. “Brotherhood Brew has helped me come a long way from where I was this time last year,” Bonner says. “I was worried about if I was going to graduate high school, worried about getting a job and about other financial situations going on in my home.
“Because of Brotherhood, now I’m prepared for what comes at me in life. I’m learning to conduct myself on a more professional level than what I grew up with.”
Part of that, he notes, is simple communications skills. After all, no one in an office is going to buy coffee from somebody who’s his own biggest obstacle as soon as he opens his mouth. It can be as basic as greeting a prospective customer with “Good morning. How are you?” instead of, “Yo, whass up?”
Bonner represents Brotherhood Brew’s sales force “door to door, to schools and any opportunity I get a chance to. I love what I do. Because I love coffee.” Passion, too, is a plus.
Phalen Pounds embraces the hard work and long hours that it takes to shepherd these young men through the process of leaving behind a negative, dead-end lifestyle and shouldering the task of getting ready to make something of themselves. “I came to Brotherhood as a case manager. I work with the guys directly, helping them out with all aspects within the office. And with community [outreach]. I take them to events, help them coordinate the events.”
He does that particular piece working side by side with program participant Sidiq Abdullah, sales and event manager. “I [also] help with housing. And everything else that comes in-between.”
Pounds is, to coin the old phrase, chief cook and bottle washer. No matter is too big or small — if it means helping to empower his charges, that’s what he is there to do. And at whatever hour — there’s no such thing on his work clock as quitting time. “I wear many hats, here. Just kind of fill the gaps wherever I’m needed.”
It goes without saying that you’ll get the best response from these fellas if you’re someone like Phalen Pounds, constantly putting in work, letting them know somebody cares whether they succeed, letting them know a role model and mentor has their back. He sums it up, “You help them do what they want to do. Help them live their dream. So they can believe in themselves.”
Proof positive: In August, Brotherhood, Inc. competed in the Mosaic Social Entrepreneurs Cup competition, sponsored by the EPCON: Engaged Philanthropy Conference held at the Minneapolis Hyatt Regency. They were presented a $5,000 check, a handsome trophy and, importantly, evidence for future funders that this is an initiative that yields results.
Incidentally, the organizations they competed against had administrative professionals delivering addresses to represent their social agencies. Brotherhood Inc.’s own Kerry Johnson, participant and public relations representative, spoke for himself and his peers about the difference the organization is making in young men’s lives. Thanks to which Brotherhood, Inc. proudly placed second.
For more information, visit online at www.brotherhoodmn.org.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.