By Erica Boniface, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
Making a difference in people’s lives is never an easy task. But making a difference in the lives of young men that come from violence often takes patience, plenty of resources, loads of empathy – and pure kindness and understanding. As we write this, it’s hard to fully comprehend the magnitude of change and impact that 2018 Livingston Fellow, Yoal Kidane Ghebremeskel, has on young men through his organization, Street Fraternity.
In 2013, Yoal co-founded the nonprofit youth center to provide a place of brotherhood and personal growth for urban young men who primarily live in the turbulent East Colfax Avenue neighborhoods of Aurora and Denver.
It’s been over a year now since Yoal was selected as a 2018 Livingston Fellow. He has been an inspiration to work with and has a heart of gold, so we wanted to check in and see how things are going for him.
Bonfils-Stanton Foundation: Hi Yoal! You co-founded Street Fraternity in 2013 and became its Executive Director the next year. Tell us a bit about Street Fraternity and what inspired you to start the nonprofit youth center.
Yoal Ghebremeskel: I have been involved with nonprofits, foundations, and volunteering in the East Colfax neighborhood (mainly with services for disadvantaged youth and young adults) since my last year at the University of Denver in 2007.
Street Fraternity is a re-birth of an older nonprofit, The Spot. In 2012, I met Dave Stalls, Levon Lyles and Amadou Bility, and along with young men we founded Street Fraternity with the intent of offering space and time (late afternoon to night hours) for youth/young men experiencing violence in the Denver Metro area. The inspiration for Street Fraternity’s foundation and success is our organization’s culture and style that continues to exist through the values of demand-driven participant-led programming.
Our voluntary participants are the embodiment of our mission, which provides brotherhood and personal growth for urban young men.
BSF: You’ve helped many through your work. Is there a specific moment or story that has stuck with you over the years? Do you mind sharing it with us?
YG: There are many moments and stories, but perhaps the following quote from a young man said while in Street Fraternity’s kitchen about four years ago often comes to mind and wraps all the moments and stories for me: “We are all students. We are all teachers.”
BSF: You recently traveled to England with the U.S. State and Justice Departments to learn about global extreme violence issues. What did you come away with from that experience?
YG: From that experience – and including visitors to Street Fraternity from countries in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and South America – it was quickly confirmed that the services and program Street Fraternity offers are very significant when it comes to addressing issues of wholistic community violence. These folks working on violence issues globally saw the value of Street Fraternity’s culture, style, drop-in/walk-in space, and how our nonprofit is on the ground doing the work. It is exciting to know Street Fraternity is becoming a model for others.
I did learn from the experience as well, but those learnings haven’t been as easy to implement due to limited resources – both financial and human. Despite success in securing diverse sources of funding over the last two years, we must always stay on top of critical needs on the ground and continue to prioritize where we spend our energy and resources.
However, through my Livingston Fellowship, I remain hopeful and open to creating those valuable connections locally, nationally, and internationally to have the greatest impact in the lives of young men through the lens of demand-driven and participant-led programming.
BSF: You are a 2018 Livingston Fellow. What has been the most impactful part of the Fellowship for you so far?
YG: Two things have been impactful:
1) Don’t try to do too much in so little time, like tackling multiple projects in a month.
2) Chill out… Self-care is important.
BSF: What are you still hoping to accomplish through the Livingston Fellowship Program?
YG: With so much impending change for the East Colfax neighborhood and the consistency of violence issues locally, nationally, and internationally I/we/Street Fraternity are committed to serving, assisting, starting, and consulting wherever we are needed and wanted. I hope to remain flexible and adaptable to my Livingston Fellowship plan so that I can make the most impact for Street Fraternity’s mission.
BSF: What are your favorite hobbies and activities? – What do you do during your free time?
YG: Spending time with family and friends. Coffee ceremonies are a favorite, and, oh yeah anything that has to do with soccer.
BSF: Are you more of an avid reader or do you prefer curling up on the couch to watch your favorite TV show?
YG: I have about 15 books sitting in the back seat of my car waiting to be read. So I’m not an avid reader. However, I do enjoy staying on top of international news and articles and prefer to read about it.
BSF: Do you have an inspirational quote you live by?
YG: For now: Be good. Do good.