Brothers’ Keepers

Reinventing school for young black men in crisis in Minnesota

Minneapolis Public Schools alumnus Michael Walker heads the Office of Black Male Student Achievement. He’s shown here with South High students participating in an effort to celebrate young black men and change their experience of school.
Photo by Johnny Crawford

By Beth Hawkins, Education Reporter, MinnPost

Photographs by Johnny Crawford

Six intersecting life stories provide a window into the heartbreaking realities of the “school-to-prison pipeline” for far too many young African American men growing up in Minnesota.

Reporter Beth Hawkins and photojournalist Johnny Crawford paired up to collaborate on this unique and powerful storytelling project. Through words and pictures, they look behind the grim statistics to reveal the real-life dreams, hopes and struggles of six African American men—a mix of young men in juvenile detention schools and the teachers who are trying to help them.

This series first appeared in MinnPost, an online news site, on July 23, 2015.

To see more of Johnny Crawford’s photos for this series, click here.

Story Links

Don Austin: The path to prison

When Don Austin was 15 he stole a car, sparking a police chase that killed a woman. While he was in jail, he learned to read.

Jon Berry: Inspiration in an unlikely place

Jon Berry grew up in the small town of Greenwood, South Carolina, where schools ignored Brown v. Board of Education in favor of what he calls “separate but equal.”

Sammy White: The teen whisperer

White is a behavior specialist, and is gifted at helping kids manage their emotions so that they can stay in school.

Ansu Kolleh: Looking for home

If Ansu Kolleh is among the half of Minnesota English language learners who graduate from high school, it will be at least in part because of his disposition, which has allowed him to survive being the newcomer over and over again.

Nordame Williams: ‘I had to be guilty, I guess’

Williams makes a choice between jail—where Jon Berry teaches—and agreeing to do community service and enroll in an alternative learning center.

Michael Walker: The brothers’ keeper

After his family moved to Minneapolis from Gary, Indiana, Walker made two deliberate decisions. The first was to stay busy and off the streets by volunteering. The second was to hang out with friends who shared his goal of going to college.

Beth Hawkins is a writer-in-residence at Education Post, a non-partisan communications organization working to support student-focused improvements in public education. Hawkins previously wrote for MinnPost’s education blog Learning Curve. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including from the Education Writers Association and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Her work has appeared in More, Mother Jones, Minnesota Monthly and many other publications.

Johnny Crawford is an award-winning photographer and educator. He was a staff photographer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than 28 years. During his tenure he photographed three Olympic games, five U.S. Presidents, and other major events and figures. Today, Crawford teaches private photography lessons, and is an editorial and event photographer at Johnny Crawford Photography. He holds a master’s in photojournalism from Ohio University.