For 25 years, program has created brotherhood for Black high school seniors

The nine initiate are give speeches
The nine initiates from high schools in the Twin Cities area give speeches on their dreams for college and what Rites of Passage has meant to them on Saturday.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Chapter of Jack and Jill of America

For Will Walker III, a Breck High School senior, the Rites of Passage program taught him lessons in time management and allowed him to learn more about his African American heritage.

“To be initiated it’s kind of a beautiful thing to realize you’re part of a legacy now,” said Walker, one of the program’s nine initiates.

Over the past 25 years, the program has grown a community of Black men who support each other in career, business and personal goals and often come back as mentors to the younger initiates.

“Being within that community, knowing that you're meeting what other men have faced and gone through the same process, it creates a brotherhood and is something that I hope lasts me for a lifetime,” said Walker.

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Mentors and initiates huddle in a circle during
Mentors and initiates huddle in a circle during a prayer at the end of Rites of Passage ceremony.
Minneapolis Chapter of Jack and Jill of America

Earlier this month, the program’s first class since COVID celebrated completing the program.  During their six months, the young initiates build a relationship with their mentor, attend career-building workshops and present a business proposal at the end of the program.

The program is led by the Minneapolis Chapter of Jack and Jill of America. Since 1998, over 300 young Black men from high schools in the Twin Cities area have completed it.

“It's been rooted in African American tradition, with the African culture, the voyage to manhood that we really instill,” said Jennifer Harris, president of the Minneapolis Chapter of Jack and Jill.

Rites of Passage is a part of the nonprofit’s mission to invest in Black youth and nurture them into the next generation of leaders in America. Harris said it was started by two women who had a vision to start young African American men in high school in a process of philanthropic giving.

Some of the program’s mentors, like Scott Allen Morris, have remained involved for nearly a decade. He says the beauty of the program is that it’s about young Black men and the investment in their lives.

“How many opportunities do young Black men have in Minnesota to come together in a safe space?” said Morris. “They're all in a learning space. To be able to come together, be vulnerable and share, grow and be challenged. That's rare. It's rare for Minnesota, that's for sure.”

The program has raised over $200,000 in funds to local community nonprofits since 1998. This year, the nine initiates chose to donate their money to Sanneh Foundation, a St. Paul organization that provides free sports camps and academic programs to low-income youth.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment‘s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.