Blog Entry Narrative Change

#OwnYourStory: Teaching Black Men and Boys How To Control Their Own Narratives

by Jasmin Barnett

My name is Jasmin Barnett, but you can call me Jas. I’m from Detroit and in my city, we say ‘What up Doe?’ 

I can't believe I work for CBMA. My journey to get here started with a direct message to CBMA CEO Shawn Dove with a screenshot of my resume. I didn't want anything, except to hear directly from “the man with the plan”. After my initial message we were supposed to get coffee or meet at the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) annual conference, but the stars had not aligned -- yet. Still I remained patient and persistent. 

My Personal Journey 

On my vision board, I had decided that by August 1st I would have a new job. I was tired of being unhappy, drained and feeling like I was just surviving at work. Granted, I was grateful, but I understood it was over for me just surviving and time for me to start thriving.

I graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and African American Studies. When I chose to study African American Studies people asked why, but it was a calling for me to understand diversity. For the first time I was around Black people who looked like me yet were still different. They spoke different languages and came from different socioeconomic backgrounds. 

After graduating from Howard I returned to Detroit, where I then earned my Master’s in social justice and community development. I thought it was my time, but it wasn’t. I realized that I had nobody to open the door for me. It was so much easier for me to do the wrong thing than it was for me to do the right thing. Here I was, 23 with a master’s degree, and yet nobody would help me. 

I no longer knew what I needed to do, so I moved to Atlanta to work as a personal assistant for a rapper. My Instagram page was popping but my soul was lost, and I was depressed. After seven months in Atlanta I returned home to Detroit and took a job that I thought was going to help mold and mentor. That never happened. I began searching for a way out and ultimately came up with the idea of Ladies in Training (LIT).

LIT started as a way to provide access to opportunity because while opportunities exist, access to them can be limited based on who your parents are or who they are not. I am a part of Detroit and know what our youth face every day at school, at home, in the streets and in the social media world. I am not just some adult who is coming in and telling them what they have to do. I am from their neighborhood; I am a part of their family. I am no different than them. But I made it. I made it for every young person of color to see what is possible. 

It was not always easy. There were days when I felt stuck and wanted to give up. But for all the days I felt like that, the days I received my diplomas were when I finally felt like I’d truly achieved something. I opened the doors to my future and decided to never look back. 

The Future Is Now

Upon finally meeting, Shawn asked me who I was and whyI was and it made me think. I told him everything; vulnerability is my currency AND my authenticity is both my superpower and activism. He got straight to the point and asked if I was available to come back and meet that day at 5:00 p.m., to which I said yes. He then told me there was someone he wanted me to meet by the name of Dr. Brian Barnes from an organization called TandemED

When I returned my future became set in motion. It was like an ambush of love and value: “You are welcomed here; we welcome you here.”I have never felt that feeling.

I left a job that looked good for everyone to come to a place that made me feel full of purpose. 

I am honored to lead the #OwnYourStory Initiative because I know what it means to own my story. The #OwnYourStory initiative is about Black men and boys controlling the narratives of who they are beyond the surface into their souls. Detroit is the Blackest city and our high schools of full of beautiful young Black men who deserve to own their stories about who they are and what they will become. 

The art of storytelling has been passed down from generation to generation, and it goes without saying that the truth about Black stories has never been televised. As Program Director for the #OwnYourStory Initiative, I will besupporting the community to organize, own and execute narrative-change campaigns. The work will allow the people to tell their own stories.  

Why me? Simply put, I understand. Every moment of my life is campaigning for Black men and boys. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, godmother and friend all to Black men. In order to change your world, you must begin with the things that make up your world. 

At one point, I had to acknowledge my worth and learn that it’s not a matter of being better than anyone else. It’s about having the equity and the inclusiveness to thrive. That is what we all need as Black people: the audacity to believe we can make a difference in the future lives of Black men and boys. 

Coming to CMBA/TandemED is purpose work for me. My purpose is to inspire and lead by example and with gratitude for my ancestors. And so I come in search of answers to some key questions:What are we doing? What do we need? How can I help CBMA? How can we help one another? How can we turn it up for our future?

Because helping my brother automatically means that I am helping myself.

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