Empower, Inspire, and Connect through My Brothers Keeper

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Princeton Fellow 2021

Ten days before he left office, President Barack Obama delivered his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago. As he reflected on his tenure as president and the state of the nation, he said the following: “I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.”

At the Obama Foundation, Christopher Crater has taken this advice to heart. As Community Engagement Associate (and a 2021 Chicago Peace Fellow), Crater believes in his ability to bring about change, not through mere individual effort, but through empowering, supporting, and believing in people, especially the people who find themselves lacking not in will or spirit but in resources and connections.

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People like Trey Baker, the President of the Mundelein High School Black Students Union and a point guard for the Mundelein Mustangs basketball team.

Though Baker was already an accomplished student leader and activist, in 2020, after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the ensuing protests, national reckoning, and civil unrest, he wanted to do more.

Baker himself has been affected by gun violence in Chicago. When he was in junior high, his Coach and a teammate were both killed in a shooting.

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“From that, you know, it's all about turning that pain into purpose and that's what I tried to do is take all those life experiences and turn them into a purpose, turn them into a reason to keep going and a reason to keep impacting other people from all walks of life,” said Baker.

“I knew that was in me, that something in our community, not just policy-wise, but culturally had to change. We had to re-imagine how, you know, our systems in our community were aging clear pathways for our young men and boys of color and, and changing the narrative,” said Baker.

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A mutual friend and mentor introduced Baker to Crater, and they instantly got to work.

“He (Crater) really just introduced the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance to me and really just gave me the keys to the car and put all the trust in me to fulfill the initiatives of the MBK Alliance in Mundelein.”

Launched in February of 2014, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance was one of the initiatives put in place while President Obama was in the White House. Its goal is to “address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and to ensure all youth can reach their full potential,” according to its website. It offers programming for boys and young men of color in over 250 communities across the country. There are six MBK communities in Chicago.

Along with Crater, Baker decided to start a chapter of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance in Mundelein, working with Crater, the school superintendent, and local officials.

Crater started by directing Trey to the Anguish and Action page on the Obama Foundation Website and proceeded to introduce him to various leaders in violence prevention throughout Chicago.

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“You know I told him, well if you're committed I'll go through the process with you. We can talk about some of the different programs that we have at the foundation, and maybe see if we find a fit,” said Crater of the process.

“We probably have had bi-weekly check-ins for the last year or so,” said Crater of the process of creating a Mundelein chapter of the MBK. “He’d give me updates: like I’m meeting with this TV channel, or the police, or this week I’m meeting with the school board...etc”

Through his efforts with the Mundelein chapter of the MBK Alliance, Baker started a school mentoring program during the pandemic, along with the distribution of food and basic necessities.

“Every few weeks, we check in on this young man, and through his senior year he has been absolutely phenomenal,” said Crater.

At the end of last summer, Baker reached out to Mary Saunders, the Executive Director of Strides For Peace, a nonprofit that hosts an annual marathon against gun violence in Chicago.

“I took it upon myself...to reach out to one of their communications folks and told them that I’m the director of the Mundelein MBK and that we would love to implement a race against gun violence in our community,” said Baker. He eventually met Saunders, who became both a friend and mentor.

“She [Saunders] has been a great person in my life to guide me, to teach me about a lot of the different lessons about how to continue my work in public service.”

Crater, who also has connections with Saunders, is equally appreciative of the work she has done.

“What's so significant about her [Mary Saunders’] race is that it's a big melting pot. She brings the city together—these amazing top non for profit leaders and violence-interrupters who very rarely have time to kind of sit down together, and she creates this space where they all can convene and share stories,” said Crater.

Last summer, Baker organized and hosted the first race within two weeks. The race took place in the least ideal of situations, on a cloudy and rainy day, but about 80 people showed up, raising $800.

This summer, the event was held on a Sunday, June 13. About 120 runners and walkers showed up to participate, raising over $1,200, said Baker.

“Mary Saunders usually hosts this race in the middle of September, but because Trey’s going on his way to college, they wanted to do a pre-run just to build excitement,” said Crater.

The money raised will be used for the Mundelein MBK chapter’s activities, as well as for other violence prevention organizations in Chicago.

“One of the things I think is most beautiful is that even though Mundelein might not have the issues in Chicago on the South and West Side, they still raise money for organizations on the South or West Side, which I think is so special.”

Baker has also worked to strengthen his community’s relationship with the police department, organizing talks about reimagining policing. He also pushed for a racial equity policy to be passed on the school board.

“We worked with our superintendent and our school board members to pass the first-ever policy on racial and educational equity,” said Baker.

This policy includes ensuring that the curriculum meets the needs of the racially and culturally diverse student body, ensuring that students have equitable access to resources, and pushing for more diverse hiring practices.

“Seeing the success that we've had so far in terms of changing that narrative culturally and through policy has been really rewarding for our community members. They see the change, you know, [and] they're a part of it and that's what makes me so proud of bringing the MBK Alliance to Mundelein,” said Baker.

This fall, Baker will attend Maryville University in St. Louis, where he will be studying organizational leadership and political science while also playing point guard for their varsity basketball team. He will continue his role as director of the Mundelein chapter of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.

Back at the Obama Foundation, Crater maintains that Baker deserves most of the credit for his achievements.

“The Obama Foundation’s mission is to empower, inspire, and connect. And that's all that was—just a connection. Trey and My Brother's Keeper in Mundelein—they did all the work,” he said.

Crater hopes that the Obama Presidential Center will continue to grow as a hub for civic engagement, where they can continue to convene people like Baker, “so they can do the great work.”

“We’re so proud of him,” said Crater. “The sky is not even the limit for the young brother.”

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