Roosevelt High School opened its doors to students for its annual My Brother's Keeper on Saturday. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Roosevelt High School senior Justin McDonald, 17, said he wants to get a degree in elementary education and teach in the district he grew up in.

“There are not a lot of Black male role models. There are not a lot of Black male teachers — it’s important for us to see a familiar face,” McDonald said Saturday at his school, where he was among almost 100 students from 11 school districts Islandwide who attended the third annual My Brother's Keeper Long Island Symposium.

The event, hosted by the Roosevelt school district, featured team-building exercises, workshop sessions and a series of guest speakers centered on improving outcomes for students of color. 

Over the past year, the program, McDonald said, has helped him "grow as a man."

Then-President Barack Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper program in February 2014 to address the achievement gaps and life outcomes for the nation's minority students. It has since expanded.

One of the symposium’s morning activities included a life-size version of the board game Tassel Dash. Travis “Inspiration” Pinckney, 36, the co-founder of the game who also was on hand, said it’s designed to educate students about the steps to graduation.

Students take part in an exercise Saturday at the My...

Students take part in an exercise Saturday at the My Brother’s Keeper Long Island Symposium at Roosevelt High School. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Some schools have student-to-counselor ratios that make navigating that process difficult, and there are students who don’t have families with firsthand experience of making it through high school, he said.

The game empowers those parents to better understand that process themselves, Pinckney said, “and now they feel empowered to have a conversation with their child that they probably didn’t feel equipped to have before.”

Lester W. Young Jr., chancellor of the state Board of Regents, said My Brother’s Keeper has already yielded tangible results for the state, which has rolled out the program in 36 districts with plans to extend its reach.

Communities using the program have posted data showing graduation rates have improved, suspensions have decreased and college admission rates have risen, said Young, who was one of the event's keynote speakers.

The success of the program “gives me hope,” Young said. “This is the next generation of leaders, and it’s important that we get this right.”

Lois Marmolejos, 16, a junior at Hempstead High School, said he received an internship through My Brother’s Keeper to tutor disadvantaged elementary school students.

That experience, he said, helped him make a difference in his community and served as the starting point to his ultimate goal of becoming a human rights attorney. 

"It gets me a start in helping these people who are not as advantaged as everyone else," Marmolejos said. 

The power of the program comes from its collaborative nature, said Roosevelt schools Superintendent Deborah Wortham.

“With My Brother’s Keeper, you don’t want to work in isolation,” Wortham said. “You want to make sure you’re a keeper of yourself and others.”

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