Following star-studded appearances at Oakland's Scottish Rite Center on Tuesday, the focus of former President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper Alliance national gathering shifted Wednesday toward those doing the hard work in their communities to provide brighter opportunities for boys and young men of color.
Wednesday morning's session of MBK Rising! featured testimonials from those who have overcome incarceration, gun violence and other societal ills to launch and lead programs that are changing lives in urban communities.
Shaka Senghor, executive director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition on Criminal Justice Reform, started Wednesday's session by sharing his journey from serving 19 years in prison in Michigan for murder, including stints in solitary confinement, to a best-selling author, artist and activist who has met with Oprah Winfrey and President Obama.
After finally winning parole, Senghor said, he was told he would be back in jail in six months.
"I believe our journey of tragedy to triumph is important," he said, "so that every young man of color in this room can understand no matter where you start at, if you make a commitment to lifting yourself up and lifting others as you climb, you can provide very different outcomes.
"Even though they told me I would be back in prison in six months, eight and a half years later, I'm here serving my people," he said.
The three-day gathering began Monday with a day of community service and on Tuesday featured discussions with Obama, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Legend.
The event has brought together hundreds of youth and community leaders from around the nation to celebrate the growth of My Brother's Keeper over the past five years in developing programs aimed at reducing gun violence, building mentoring relationships and improving life opportunities
for vulnerable groups -- and to build momentum for the future.
Obama launched the alliance in 2014 following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Former NFL receiver Victor Cruz, who won a Super Bowl championship with the New York Giants, spoke of the value of mentoring as he sat beside Eddie, a youth from the Boys and Girls Club in Paterson, New Jersey, where Cruz spent time as a child and now invests his time and money to support.
"I'm using my resources to get these kids out and see different things about the world and different ways to view the world and see outside the viewpoint from Paterson, New Jersey," he said.
"I want to be present. It wasn't just about lending my name and walking away and doing other things. I want to make sure, especially because it's in my hometown, I'm there, present, giving back, using my resources to the best of my ability," Cruz said.
Eddie credited Cruz's mentorship with exposing him to new experiences, including the 2014 science fair at the White House.
"Every single time Victor visits us, everyone is excited," Eddie said. "Every little kid will run up and hug him. That's because they're excited to see someone who has grown up where they grew up and got out of where they thought they couldn't get out of. As kids, sometimes we think that since we grew up here, we can't leave here."
Another panel discussed innovative community programs to combat gun violence in Chicago and Richmond, California.
Sam Vaughn of Richmond's Office of Neighborhood Safety talked about the success of the city's peacemaker fellowship program in curbing shootings in what had traditionally been ranked as one of the nation's most dangerous cities. The program offers mentoring and guidance services to those who have a history of or are at risk of gun violence.
Since the program began, Vaughn said, the city has seen a 73 percent decline in shootings resulting in injuries or death. Of the 106 fellows who have gone through the program, 96 percent are still alive, 80 percent have not been injured by a firearm and 75 percent have not been suspected in a firearm-related offense.
"We've gotten a lot of success by looking at these young men as assets and not liabilities," Vaughn said. "We let them know that we see them, we acknowledge them, they're valuable to us, they're valuable to the community."
Those sentiments were echoed by Richmond's Assistant Police Chief Bisa French, who said that partnerships between law enforcement and community-driven programs are key to curbing gun violence.
"We don't have the ability to keep locking everybody up," French said. "We want to get people on the right path, we want people to see there's a different path they can take."
The afternoon session of the gathering Wednesday starts at 3:30 p.m. and will be streamed at Obama.org. It features "Black Panther," "Creed," and "Fruitvale Station" director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan.