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'This Is Not About Me, My or I. This Is About We, Us and Ours.'

Charles Caine is making a difference in Minneapolis by teaching youth in the community how to give back, and he wants to make an even bigger impact.

By Eric Ortiz

Brothers EMpowered founder and president Charles Caine, second from left, with youth. (Charles Caine)

Minneapolis didn't get to this moment alone. The actions and decisions of many people created the challenges facing our city. Solving them will require the work of many people, too.

One of the people helping Minneapolis get to a better place is Charles Caine, the 38-year-old founder and president of Brothers EMpowered, a community mentorship organization in North Minneapolis. Charles shared his story and vision for the future of Brothers EMpowered during a Tea Time with Alicia Gibson on March 27, another opportunity Alicia is giving people to hear about important issues from voices that often aren’t heard.

"I used to be a stickup kid, selling drugs, getting into trouble, hurting the community," said Charles, who went to North Community High School in North Minneapolis. "I was cold and emotionless, how many kids act today, thinking this is the way to be a man. Show no emotion, be heartless. But I realized that’s not what being a man is. A man can show emotion. A man respects women, his mother, grandmother. A man supports his family and helps his community."

Charles founded Brothers EMpowered in 2014 to help men of color overcome the barriers in their lives and the lives in their communities. Now, he is working with youth to create a stronger community by giving back to the community. As a result, Charles has become a pillar in the community, teaching youth how they can become positive contributors to the community. He and a team of volunteers lead the mentorship training program and have organized food shares, school equipment drives and more.

Charles started Honor Roll Athletics, a youth-run clothing and apparel company that is connected to Brothers EMpowered. They make and sell T-shirts, hats, backpacks and other merchandise to teach youth business skills and provide real-world leadership training. His latest initiative is called Black on Black Love and deals with the issue of black-on-black crime. It’s a movement to promote peace and a call for people to put the guns down.

Through the programming and services of Brothers EMpowered, youth are learning valuable skills to develop leadership, accountability, discipline, self-respect, good work ethics, and a positive sense of purpose and direction — skills that can close the growing opportunity gap we have in America and help everyone reach their full potential.

"My dream is to have a youth center that can be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Charles. "We could have tutoring, training and role models. It could be a place to meet after school and on weekends. We could have a summer program. It would be a place for refuge and opportunity. … I have had mothers tell me they would love for us to help their sons, but we need resources and funding."

One organization that is helping provide support is Raising Cane's, a longtime partner of Brothers EMpowered. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, the Raising Cane's Stadium Village hosted a fundraiser and helped raise over $2,100 for Brothers EMpowered. Raising Cane's also provides food for Brothers EMpowered events, as they did for a youth training session in the North Loop on April 3.

Brothers EMpowered youth training sessions in the North Loop of Minneapolis on April 6. (Jr. Brothers EMpowered/Facebook)

Alicia and I went to this training session and saw firsthand the uplifting work Charles and his team are doing with Brothers EMpowered. The theme of the session was perspective, and Charles encouraged all of the young Black men present (a little more than a dozen) to approach life with a half-full perspective instead of a half-empty view, no matter what roadblocks and obstacles are in their path. Marques Armstrong, the president and CEO of Hope and Healing Counseling Services, a new Brothers EMpowered partner, was the keynote speaker of the training session and spoke about how to overcome trauma, oppression and racism to get on a path for success. It was another example of doing good work together through partnership.

One of the most powerful parts of the session was when the boys spoke, going around the circle. Each of them was asked the same question: How do you feel America views you as young Black man? Many of them had a similar response: They view us as a threat, dangerous and not good.

This is what they feel, but it's not who they are. It's a false narrative. The majority of young Black men are not a threat or dangerous, and they have a lot of good to contribute to communities across America. Here in Minneapolis, Charles is working to give young Black men the tools and opportunities they need to share their unique talents and gifts — their good — with the world.

It takes time and many hands to heal a community and create change. Charles Caine understands this, and he's making a difference in Minneapolis with Brothers EMpowered. The community mentorship organization has shown what is possible by working together and giving back. But there's much more work to do.

"This is not about me, my or I. This is about we, us and ours," says Charles. "It’s a collective. It’s a we thing. It’s bigger than individuals. It’s about us."

Alicia also understands what is possible by giving back. She is a level-headed leader and pragmatic community builder who knows how to bring people together and make positive things happen. She did this work as the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association president. She's doing it during her campaign for the Ward 10 seat. And she can do this work as an inspiring, community-focused city council member.

Alicia has a plan to bring back that village mentality to Minneapolis. And bringing back the village is how we can build that village we all need to thrive.

You can watch Alicia's whole Tea Time conversation with Charles Caine here [link to Zoom recording or YouTube video of conversation, if available]. To learn more about Charles and Brothers EMpowered, read this story. To support them, give today.

Eric Ortiz lives in Lowry Hill East and is director of media for Granite Media.

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