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Washtenaw United: Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper celebrates growth ahead of annual gala

Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper project specialist Jamall Bufford.
Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper
Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper project specialist Jamall Bufford.


Seasoned microphone veteran Jamall Bufford, aka Buff1, has a commanding presence on and off stage, which has earned him a diehard fanbase. Whether rocking a party anthem, a political burner or a soulful banger, one thing is certain – Jamall Bufford consistently delivers. Bufford has had a successful solo career as well as successful group career, starting with Athletic Mic League and more recently with The Black Opera, Rap’s first performing arts group. Bufford’s background as a Hip-Hop artist and DJ led to him wanting to share his passion for Hip-Hop with young people, Bufford is now the Director for Washtenaw My Brother’s Keeper. Prior to his WMBK role, Bufford spent years working at the Neutral Zone teen center as an Emcee Workshop Facilitator and Music Coordinator, and as a Paraprofessional working with emotionally impaired middle school students.


Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper (WMBK)

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Registration for WMBK Annual Gala(Sunday, November 5th from 5-8pm at the Student Center Ballroom on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.)

Elisa Guyton


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And I'm David Fair, and we welcome you to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. It is our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. And today, we're going to take another look at an organization where those issues are front and center. Back in 2014, then-President Barack Obama signed a declaration establishing the My Brother's Keeper Task Force. It was a coordinated federal effort to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. But solutions--those tend to be local. So, not long after came the formation of Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper, and it's remained focused on creating cradle-to-career pathways for young Black and Brown males. A lot of work has been done, and a lot of work remains to be done. Our guest is Jamall Bufford, and Jamall is a project specialist and youth mentor for Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper. And it's good to talk with you again, Jamall.

Jamall Bufford: Good to be here, Dave. Appreciate it.

David Fair: I mentioned career pathways. What is the process for getting young men of color involved and then on that path to a brighter future?

Jamall Bufford: Well, a couple ways. When we do our work with young people, we try to bring in different men of color in our community who have various career paths, you know, whether it be a lawyer, a doctor, entrepreneur or artist. But seeing someone that looks like them, you know, doing these jobs and has these occupations.

David Fair: How different is Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper today than when it first began?

Jamall Bufford: It's a great question. Well, we have a few new programs now in the beginning stages. Really, the main programmatic work that was done was our 50 Strong Breakfast, which is still taking place every second Saturday of the month. Since I got in the role of the leadership role, My Brother's Keeper, one of the main points of emphasis that the steering committee put on my plate was building relationships with schools. So, one of the first things I did was start going to a couple of different middle schools in the area. They wanted to really focus on middle schools because that period in the young person's life was so pivotal, like that transition from being fully a kid to, you know, thinking you're grown, but not quite grown and not even really a teenager yet. Your body is changing. Your friend groups are changing. Your mind is probably changing. So, we wanted to try to build relationships with middle schools, the staff and administrators there, but also try to create a safe space for young men of color in middle schools. You know, I believe there's less than 2% teachers are Black males. So, our way to kind of counter that is just have a presence in the schools, so that young people can feel comfortable, so that they can achieve academically like we know they can.

David Fair: So, you're a noted hip-hop artist and performer in this community and beyond. So, when you show up in a school and you engage and try and build relationships with these students, does that kind of go a long way because they relate to your experience that you talk about and that you're building a career on?

Jamall Bufford: Yeah, that's a part of it. You know, I think my background in hip-hop kind of started me on this path to working with young people. One, just my experience with hip hop has always been about community and kind of sharing resources, especially here in Washtenaw County, where when I was growing up, there wasn't a huge hip-hop scene, so kind of being a part of building that it's a good community of, you know, like-minded people who had similar goals. And so, that's influenced the way I work with young people as well. And, you know, hip-hop is kind of the language of a lot of young people now. So, what better way to kind of build that relationship with them and build bonds with them than using this art form, this beautiful art form, that love. So, that was part of it. You know, I started doing youth work at The Neutral Zone teen center, working with young rappers, you know, doing their emcee workshop, sharing my love for hip-hop with them, the art. And, yeah, that grew from there. I became music coordinator over all the music programs at The Neutral Zone. Fast forward, here I am as well with My Brother's Keeper now.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United, and we're talking with Jamall Bufford from Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper. Now, obviously, there's something tantalizing to most all of us when it comes to music and the arts. And there are a good number of careers in that industry outside of the performing side of things. But what if you encounter a young man at one of the middle schools that is struggling academically but really wants to be an accountant? We need those too. Are there pathways available? And do you have to change the manner in which you communicate?

Jamall Bufford: It's a great question. I mean, we still want to approach each young person holistically, like the whole person. So, helping them find a tutor, you know, being a presence in the school, if at all possible, building community, maybe there's a young person at the school that they don't know who might be willing to help them--you know, really supporting the whole person and getting the resources they need, so that they can achieve academically.

David Fair: And when we talk about building a full person, one of the things that all too often, I'm sure you encounter, is some young people who have had to endure and are enduring some sense of trauma. Violence is everywhere. No matter where it happens, its impacts reverberate through generations. Certainly, over the past year, we've seen more than our fair share of violent and gun violence incidents on the east side of Washtenaw County. So, how much of that is part of the conversations in what you're doing at Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper?

Jamall Bufford: It's a big part, which is why we connected with the Community Violence Intervention Team here in the county by a bunch of different community members, people that have been impacted by violence, people that have perpetuated violence, you know, elected officials, educators, law enforcement. You know, we put a team together to address this gun violence. You know, in my role with the Community Violence Intervention team is, one, you know, I helped coordinate the grieving mural that went up on Corner Health, which lifted those that have been murdered due to gun violence in our community over the last, I believe, about 15 years. So, we really wanted to honor them and honor their families and let them know that they are not forgotten and hopefully impact young people to see that and not want to go down that road or go down that path. Also, I'm starting to build the process of bringing youth voice into the community violence intervention work, really getting young people informed on ways that they can help in gun violence, whether it be, you know, leading grief circles at their school, voicing their opinion to elected officials and telling them what they think needs to happen to end gun violence. I want to start that process soon.

David Fair: We're talking with Jamall Bufford on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United this week. Jamall is a project specialist and youth mentor with Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper, and the organization is about to hold its annual gala. It's going to be on this Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Ballroom. And, Jamall, there's quite a lineup of speakers" Bonnie Billups from Peace Neighborhood Center, Darryl Johnson from Mentor2Youth, and they're both making a big difference locally and have been guests on Washtenaw United, and Hill Harper, the acclaimed actor who is seeking the Democratic nomination to become Michigan's next senator. He'll be speaking as well. What is going to be the thematic or overall message on Sunday night?

Jamall Bufford: Really just celebrating our young men--you know, lifting them up, putting them in the forefront. We wanted to get all our young men in suits and looking fly and really just celebrate them.

David Fair: I bet they like it, too.

Jamall Bufford: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We had one of our breakfasts recently. We did a little workshop on, you know, tying ties and dinner etiquette stuff. I'm myself not too familiar with, to be honest.

David Fair: Yeah. Me either.

Jamall Bufford: But, yeah, it was fun. And, yeah, I'm looking forward to it. And then, also just honoring those doing great work in our community: Darryl Johnson and Bonnie Billups. You know, icing on the cake is Hill Harper. He was connected to Barack Obama in the early stages of this My Brother's Keeper work. So, I think he's a great guest to have. Yeah, it's really just talking about all our programs, all that we've accomplished over these last couple of years and getting these programs off the ground. And, yeah, it's just a celebration.

David Fair: With all the work that is being done, we know there is much more work to be done. Having mentioned those speakers and where they come from and how they're going to impact the young people attending this gala on Sunday evening, it also occurs to me there are so many nonprofits in Washtenaw County and the region that are working towards the same goals and outcomes. Why isn't there more coordination and cooperatIon among the entities to perhaps pool resources and efforts and reach more people with greater impact?

Jamall Bufford: Well, you know, people are busy. People have their own lives and schedules. But I would love to see that. I would love to see more collaboration. Not to say that it doesn't exist. It definitely does exist. We have great partnerships with organizations in this area. But, no, I think it could be even stronger building on these collaborations, you know, to really impact our young people.

David Fair: And everybody has to write their own separate grants.

Jamall Bufford: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, why not partner for some of these grants--some of these bigger grants? I would love to see more collaboration.

David Fair: Well, there is a lot of work to be done, but a lot of great work is taking place as we speak, and that will be celebrated at the gala this Sunday evening. Thank you so much, Jamall. It's always a pleasure talking with you.

Jamall Bufford: Thank you, David. It's always a pleasure as well.

David Fair: I look forward to our next conversation with Jamall Bufford. He is a project specialist and youth mentor with Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper. For more information on the work it is doing with young men of color in our community, take a look at our website, and we'll get you linked up. You'll also find out more about Washtenaw My Brother's Keepers annual gala. It's taking place Sunday night, November 5th, in the Student Center Ballroom on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Washtenaw United--it's produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. We bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU-FM, Ypsilanti.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Washtenaw My Brother’s Keeper teamed up with United Way to be a COVID-19 Community Relief Fund Partner in 2020. United Way made 64 grants to 60 local organizations in Washtenaw County through this rapid response funding.

WMBK has been called upon by several community leaders to lead the charge of getting information and materials out to the black community, in order to counter the impact of COVID-19 in the Black Community of Washtenaw County.

On April 13, 2020, 49% of the 207 people hospitalized in Washtenaw County due to COVID-19 were Black, while Black people make up just 12% of the county’s population. The two highest case amounts were located in the 48197 and 48198 zip codes.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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