Young black men and boys have a resource for mental health help: Community organizer Barry Cooper, 41, has founded the Brothers Redefining Opportunity (BRO) Experience Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on the mental health and education of young black men and boys.
“In my vision of visions, the BRO space will be a space that young men know they can get out of the home, and it’s safe, and it’s managed by them and for them,” said Cooper.
In the physical center on Marcus Garvey Blvd. 7, the BRO Experience offers comprehensive programs including conflict resolution talks, summits on cognitive behavior and empowerment, implicit bias workshops with juvenile and NYPD officers, a free six-week “Little BRO Summer Camp” that welcomes third and fourth grade boys classroom supports, literacy programs, STEM programs, and meditation and yoga classes.
Cooper often uses music and other methods to help students feel vulnerable enough to let their guard down and connect with each other.
Cooper grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and still lives in the neighborhood. He began his career as a mental health advocate when he was a hairdresser at the age of 18. “When I saw all the different ages of men, I always wondered where the safe spaces were outside of sports and the barbershop for men to go to,” said Cooper.
He has observed the neighborhood’s shift to a “multicultural” community, but feels there is a growing “charge” to arrest young men for the sake of public safety.
“We consistently maintain that young men are the hypermasculine, angry, dangerous individuals who have plagued our communities for decades,” Cooper said.
He eventually became the dean of one of the Eagle Academy for Young Men locations in Brooklyn, serving in that role for about 10 years. Cooper was still a teacher when the pandemic hit in 2020. He had to quickly switch to online zoom sessions to connect with students, and was inspired to delve further into advocacy. In 2021 he had launched the BRO Experience.
“Just a little bit of support can consistently give a young man the stability he needs to grow in life,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s next goal is to expand the BRO Experience to other cities and states, and eventually other countries.
Ariama C. Long is a member of the Report for America Corps and writes about politics for Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant will help her keep writing stories like this one; consider making a tax-deductible donation of any amount today by stopping by https://bit.ly/amnews1.