Writing this letter is the most incredible and overwhelming feeling I’ve had throughout this journey. I’ve been in the clouds — rejoicing in everything my brothers and I have been able to accomplish for ourselves and our families — and yet, none of it has felt as real as it does at this very moment. The weight of this honor, to pour my heart out on paper, and take on the impossible task of writing six years worth of gratitude and appreciation into one letter, has brought me back down to earth in the realest way possible. Countless late-night conversations with our brother Harry ultimately led to me finally putting my thoughts on paper — and I know his thoughts and emotions are interwoven with mine as I write this letter. My brother’s help in this process highlights the whole purpose of this letter: the fact is, and always has been, that nothing in these past couple years would have been possible without all of you, my brothers. And as I write this letter, the only pressure I feel is the pressure I’ve always felt and cherished the most since we started this journey together: to make you all proud as your brother and friend.
Six years ago, I left home to embark on this journey of higher education — a road filled with limitless possibilities and an unforeseeable future, steered only by the hopes and dreams my peers and I have clung to. A journey paved by generations of disenfranchised families — the great-grandchildren of former slaves, the daughters and sons of documented and undocumented immigrants, sharecroppers and laborers — in search of tomorrow’s promise that one day their struggles will find restitution in the lives of their loved ones.
And yet, for me and many of my peers who’ve managed to overcome all the challenges and hardships in our lives leading up to this road, our journey through higher education was filled with institutional barriers and social forces expecting us to once again prove our worth for a seat at the table.
As if our experiences hadn’t overqualified us to begin with. As if our traumas and circumstances back home suddenly vanished the moment we stepped foot on campus. As if the only acceptable recourse is to be grateful this campus might grant us the opportunity to enlighten ourselves, when in fact our presence alone enlightens everyone in it.
Our journey through higher education is rarely captured by the popular, romanticized tale of the “American dream” or some rags to riches story. It’s a journey filled with self-doubt, alienation, and the excruciating experience of navigating an institution that was not designed for us — and is plagued by impertinent spaces that remind us of that. The unsettling reality is not just the fact that many of us don’t complete this journey — it’s that those of us who do often pay the price of nearly losing ourselves.
It was the process of exposing this unpopular narrative and sharing our unique yet painfully similar stories as brothers, that brought us together. It was the commitment my brothers made to empower themselves, support one another, and give back to those coming after us, that gave birth to Brothers At Bard — and helped me get through college.
I had the privilege of starting the Brothers At Bard (BAB) group on campus my second semester in college, but only after spiraling into depression and crippling anxiety. Our first BAB meeting was a gathering of friends, all from different backgrounds, sharing their experiences on campus and their lives leading up to it. We found ourselves between two worlds — strangers to ourselves and foreigners to others — searching for who we are, who we once were and who we’re yet to become. Strangers to the places we once called home, we attempted to navigate our new surroundings only to realize that the only way to navigate it was to take ownership over it. And so we did. One semester later, Harry suggested we take the space our brothers had created to a local community. There we were, two sophomores only 18 and 19 years old pitching our idea at the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston and Kingston High School.
Kingston became our second home; community members, school administrators — and most important of all — our high school mentees, accepted us with open arms and allowed us to work alongside them. My brothers and I would hop in a van on Friday nights, scrape our money together to buy our mentees pizza, and share moments we’ll cherish forever. Our mentees empowered us in ways we only hoped we could do for them. Their stories and perseverance fueled us to be better students and role models for others. To our mentees, thank you, for none of this would be possible without all of you.
After five years, hundreds of trips back and forth to Kingston, and countless brotherhood circles and mentoring workshops, I’m excited to announce that we’re about to embark on a new journey. The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust has awarded us $400,000 to strengthen and sustain Brothers At Bard, and launch our Brothers@ vision — expanding what we’ve managed to create at Bard and Kingston High School to other colleges and high schools around the country. We got our first big break brothers! No more scraping money together for pizza! As I write this letter to thank The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust — and others who have given to our mission — all our advisers, supporters at Bard College and in Kingston, I have decided to specifically address it to all our brothers, BAB mentors, and mentees. What does it mean to be a Brother at Bard? Is it mentoring? The brotherhood? The mission? Or is it the ability to proudly just be. To be whoever and whatever you want.
You all taught me that being a Brother At Bard is being allowed to define what that means for yourself, and first and foremost, remembering that you are allowed to define yourself. You all defined what Brothers At Bard is.
Beyond the money, I’m most grateful for this opportunity the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust gave us because it’s a chance to remind ourselves, and the world, that WE are the most qualified to do this work — to empower ourselves, to change our lives and the lives of those around us. Thank you for allowing me into the space; for trusting me with spreading the work you all started and made possible. It is because you all showed me how powerful this is that I’m determined to see it through. I hope I can keep making you all proud. More bags to come…
Thank you bros. Hit me up,
Founder & Director | Brothers At Bard
Twitter | @Dariel_Vaz
Instagram | @brothers_atBard
Facebook | Brothers At Bard
Blog | #MoreThanAMentor
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