Young Black men and boys have a resource for mental health help: Community organizer Barry Cooper, 41, has created the Brothers Redefining Opportunity (B.R.O.) Experience Foundation, a nonprofit that addresses young Black men’s and boys’ mental health and education.
“In my vision of visions, the B.R.O. space will be a space that young men know that they can come to outside of home, and it’s safe, and it’s curated by them and for them,” said Cooper.
At its brick-and-mortar center at 7 Marcus Garvey Blvd., the B.R.O. Experience offers extensive programming, including conflict resolution talks, cognitive behavior and empowerment summits, implicit bias workshops with youth and NYPD officers, a free six-week “Little BRO Summer Camp” that supports third- and fourth-grade boys, literacy programs, STEM programs, and meditation and yoga classes.
Cooper often uses music and other methods to help students feel vulnerable enough to let down their guards and connect with one another.
Cooper grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and continues to live in the district. He began his career as a mental health advocate when he was a barber at 18 years old. “Seeing all different ages of men, I always wondered where were the safe spaces outside of sports and the barbershop that men can go to,” said Cooper.
He has observed the shift of the neighborhood into a “multicultural” community, but feels there’s a growing “charge” to arrest young men for the sake of public safety.
“We perpetuate, consistently, that young men are the hypermasculine, angry, dangerous individuals that have been plaguing our communities for decades,” said Cooper.
He eventually became the dean at one of the Eagle Academy for Young Men locations in Brooklyn, serving in that role for about 10 years. Cooper was still an educator when the pandemic hit in 2020. He had to pivot quickly to online Zoom sessions to connect with students, and was inspired to delve further into advocacy work. By 2021, he had launched the B.R.O. Experience.
“Just a small speck of support consistently can give a young man the stability that he needs to grow in life,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s next goal is to expand the B.R.O. Experience to other cities and states, and eventually other nations.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
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