The Dream Team, Part I: BAB Beginnings
Najwa: You both must feel like you’re living a dream?
Harry: Well, it may sound crazy, but I think the biggest lesson I learned from the last year is that I’ve been living my dream for some time now.
Dariel (chuckling): I think I’d say the same.…
Armed with resources and drive, and dubbed the “Dream Team,” Harry Johnson ’17 and Dariel Vasquez ’17 see no bounds to the potential of Brothers at Bard (BAB), their student-led passion project that has gracefully been transformed into a comprehensive mentorship program providing access to positive male role models of color in spaces where they are limited and often nonexistent. Using their respective backgrounds and experiences to build off of each other, Vasquez and Johnson are back together, nurturing and growing BAB into a thriving program that is a blend of creativity and strategy and embodies an ingenuous approach to inequity and inequality. Although they set out on vastly different adventures over the last year, not many have had a first year postgrad like Johnson and Vasquez.
Harry Johnson spent the last year traveling as a fellow for the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Foundation; exploring the in’s and out’s of grassroots social enterprises that use sports as a means to further international development efforts. Dariel Vasquez stayed at Annandale to build Brothers at Bard in partnership with the grant-funded My Brother’s Keeper initiative at Kingston High School and gauging BAB’s potential to evolve into a fully functioning community initiative. While both have much to share about the past year of their lives, it’s what they’ve decided to do with year two postgrad that speaks volumes. Vasquez and Johnson aren’t just back on the same side of the world, they are back on the same team and primed for another journey.
Their dream and vision: to redefine what it means to provide guidance and support to young men of color through strategic partnership alignment of college, community, and corporate thought leaders as a means to tap into the unique potential and positionality that collegiate men of color from underserved communities have to serve as mentors and role models for their younger peers.
You would think the two grew up together the way they seem to finish each other’s sentences or laugh at jokes that weren’t said out loud, but the two actually come from very different backgrounds. Vasquez grew up in Harlem, New York, and Johnson spent his early years in Jamaica, Queens, before moving to the small town of Smyrna, Delaware, at the age of 14. “You want me to compare Delaware to NYC?” asks Johnson. “There is really no comparison. On the first day of school kids were telling the teachers they wanted to be farmers when they grew up.” It wasn’t until they received HEOP and BOP scholarships through what is now the Office of Access and Equity that their worlds collided.
Despite their different upbringings, the transition to life at Bard brought them closer than they ever could have imagined. The two describe experiencing a unique blend of academic, cultural, social, and financial shock that placed them in a peculiar position at the age of 18. “A lot of people try to understand and describe the experience of coming to a place like Bard as a young man of color as ‘world shattering,’ but that doesn’t get to the root of the experience,” says Johnson. “It may even sell it short.” Both men found that being in a liberal arts environment exposed them to new ways of seeing and interpreting their positionality as young men of color, all the while struggling to learn how to live between two drastically different worlds.
As Johnson and Vasquez grew closer through their shared experience, their connection to the College waned, until it reached a breaking point where Johnson was ready to leave Bard and retreat to a college that felt more comfortable. The two remember this period vividly, recalling a conversation they had one night during January of their first year. Johnson says, “I told him I was leaving.… I had no idea that he would convince me to stay.” By this point, Vasquez had already laid the groundwork for a new project that would create a space for black men to share their feelings while acclimating to Bard. Brothers at Bard began that night.
Vasquez and Johnson have created a strong brotherhood circle on campus, building upon Vasquez’s own experience as a mentee in brotherhood groups in NYC. They saw the need. Felt the need. Responded to the need. Personal agency is the base principle behind all BAB efforts. “There can be inclusion through an ownership of problems, and local ownership in the hands of students forms agency, an agency that create and reverberates through a community,” Vasquez and Johnson elaborated. “It’s the dream to be able to solve or fix your own problems,” Dariel noted. There is a unique strength in being an engaged student—manifesting the dream of control and agency over the most personal and strenuous issues.
Follow the dream of Brothers at Bard – Part II in the November newsletter … because from pressure comes diamonds.
Post Date: 10-16-2018