See A Man, Be A Man Offers Young Men A Better Way
LOS ANGELES — Nineteen-year-old Kensha Bell was on his way to becoming another statistic.
Raised in Watts in a single-parent home, Bell had become involved in a gang and was drifting through life. However, at 16 he joined “See A Man, Be A Man,” a mentorship program for young black men, and found his purpose.
He became a published author at the age of 17 and is now a student leader at Sacramento State University and president of FAMLI’s youth division.
It is these types of outcomes that Torrence Brannon-Reese had in mind when he founded FAMLI, Inc. (FAMLI) in 1992 to empower those who have been traditionally ignored and undervalued. In addition to mentoring youth, the organization believes in educating the community through its music arts programming.
“As a black man, I understand how it feels to be marginalized, mistreated, and disrespected, and as a victim of racism, I know how devastating this force can be,” Brannon-Reese said.
“That’s why our target audience are people of African descent of all ages who have suffered historical trauma that began with our shared legacy of slavery and continue due to institutional racism/white supremacy. FAMLI was founded as a vehicle to combat these negative forces.”
For more than two decades, FAMLI has helped to change the lives of thousands of youth, families and veterans through its creative, effective and innovative programming.
The organization produces community festivals such as the “Malcolm X Festival of Arts, Culture and Education,” the “I’ve Known Rivers Film Festival,” and the “Leimert Park Cultural Renaissance Classic Photo Gathering,” which celebrates unsung heroes in the community and captures great moments in black history.
Moreover, FAMLI produces dynamic musical concerts, via an arts/music ensemble called, “Everything with Soul,” whose music has a particular emphasis on preserving and promoting the indigenous culture and music of New Orleans, and classic soul music by legends such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown and Al Green.
While the arts will always be an integral part of the work, mentoring youth like Bell is the cornerstone of the organization’s work. In addition to “See a Man, Be a Man,” the organization works with young women through its “Princess 2 Queen” program.
Both programs pair youth, ages 10-19, with positive role models who empower them to build healthy, safe and prosperous futures.
“As someone who grew up without a father, I know how important it is to be a role model and to be the best black man that I can be,” Brannon-Reese said. “Our students leave the program with a sense of cultural/historical identity, and have a new found pride in themselves and in their ancestral legacies that give them a sense of dignity and pride as they grow and move on with their own lives.”
Brannon-Reese hopes to expand the reach of the programs, which are powered by a nine-point curriculum he wrote entitled, “Da Root Curriculum,” which focuses on the life themes of spirituality, culture, career, education, economics, politics, health, family and personal responsibility.
In fact, he currently travels across the country, speaking to audiences of color that are in need of educational models that have a proven track record of success.
“One of the things that makes us unique is our ability to focus our services on the ‘human being’ and not look at people as numbers or names,” Brannon-Reese said. “We are an example of vision, strength, and cultural/educational authenticity. We know who we are, where we are going, and have a strategic plan in place that ensure we are on task.”
Brannon-Reese is proud of everything that the organization has accomplished, despite being primarily self-funded. He hopes that more people will take interest in the work and consider helping with funding, becoming board members and joining their staff.
He envisions an organization that will eventually enlarge its reach into more countries and looks forward to the day when FAMLI can stand as a model for successful living and communal/group and collective success.
“It is our hope that the people who participate in our program leave with a clear understanding of the world, and can craft a strategic plan for themselves that will help them achieve their stated objectives and goals as they share their talents with a larger world,” Brannon-Reese said.