Torrence Brannon-Reese worked for L.A. Bridges, a campus-based prevention program focusing on middle-school youth who were particularly vulnerable to school violence, for 10 years before its funding was pulled.
Realizing that the need still existed prompted Brannon-Reese to start his own organization which strives to accomplish those same goals with a staff of volunteer mentors.
FAMLI is a nationally recognized not-for-profit corporation based at Audubon Middle School in the Crenshaw District. It was founded in 1992, and incorporated in 1993 in an effort to love, care, and provide for vulnerable youth.
FAMLI has two programs "See a Man, Be a Man" and "Princess to Queen" to help young men and women through mentorship.
"In order to be a man, these young men need to see other men who are driven, successful, and focused," said Brannon-Reese. "The same applies to our young women. They meet with these mentors six days a week.
"A percentage of the youth in the program are foster children, and the majority of them come from single parent homes. Many of them have psychological issues. Our objective is to inspire them to believe in themselves."
The program now has about 35 students enrolled, 20 of whom attend on a daily basis. Aside from general mentoring, the FAMLI program also teaches youth life skills management, organizational skills, dance, preparing for careers, entrepreneurship, yoga, creative writing, math, financial literacy, and much more.
And like many grassroots organizations, funding is sometimes an issue at FAMLI. Although all of the mentors are volunteers, Brannon-Reese said it still takes resources to keep the organization going.
A small portion of funding comes from participants themselves. The program is free of charge to children, but parents are encouraged to give what they can monthly. The Lucy Florence Cultural Center also donates 20 hot plates of food to the students three times a week, and Community Build also helps out with some funding.
"We do car washes, we hold fundraisers, and we get the kids involved. Really we do whatever we can, whatever it takes," said Brannon-Reese, who is planning a larger event to raise money.
On Saturday, June 5, the organization is holding a fundraiser featuring the FAMLI youth and the doo wop vocal group Renaissance. They will perform live at the Lucy Florence Cultural Center from 5 to 10:30 p.m. The event will include Chicago stepping, poetry readings, and hip hop and jazz performances by the youth, a dinner, the Renaissance group's appearance followed by wine and hors d'oeuvres. All of this is included in the $35 ticket price.
And while keeping the program operating is sometimes a struggle, the rewards are very much worth the effort, believes Brannon-Reese.
"I remember a few male students who were destitute, they were on the verge of getting kicked out of school, essentially they were the stereotypical Black men on their way to prison. After becoming a part of the program, one of them is now graduating from Crenshaw High School with straight A's and is preparing to go to college; the other is already in college and they are progressing. When I see them surviving and prospering, I know that God has put me in the right place. So whether or not I get paid for it, it is well worth it."