The Bridge Builders Foundation's Way of Ensuring Black Youth Win
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BRIDGE BUILDERS FOUNDATION
Before he even knew what the word mentoring meant, James Breedlove was intrigued by the concept. The oldest of his parent’s three sons, a young Breedlove, grew up in California surrounded by great men—starting with his father.
With an inclination toward greatness, Breedlove initially watched the influential, alpha men in his community from a distance. Before long, that inclination took him from observer to sponge and from sponge to mentee. "I was the beneficiary of so many men's investment in me," he offers.
Driven by such investments and a desire to impress those he admired, Breedlove turned to books to acquire knowledge that became his power. At seventeen, Breedlove's vision for his life started to take shape. He moved out of his parent’s home, enrolled in Cal State Long Beach, became active on campus, and created a janitorial business under the advisement of one of his mentors. It was ongoing mentorship coupled with the success of the janitorial business that led to Breedlove developing a better understanding of business and money.
"I was the beneficiary of so many men's investment in me.”
By age nineteen and "never too shy to ask what to do and how to do it," Breedlove worked at the California Youth Authorities, Parole Division, on the rehabilitation side, where he later moved up the ranks to become an administrator.
By twenty-four, he owned a real estate brokerage through which he purchased properties and opened residential adult care homes to serve mentally ill. Later, Breedlove converted the residential homes back to rentals turning more of his attention to community volunteer work with Zeta Rho Foundation through his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi (Zeta Rho Chapter).
At fifty, when Breedlove retired with thirty years of service in corrections and rehabilitation, he fully immersed himself into Zeta Rho Foundation, going from volunteer to full-time staff.
With a vision to build bridges from dreams to reality for the youth they served, Zeta Rho Foundation was renamed Bridge Builders Foundation (BBF). Later, the organization broadened its scope from scholarships and a summer camp to year-round mentoring and STEM programming. And to fulfill their mission "to remove the barriers of race, poverty, ignorance, and despair through mentoring, educational support, health care awareness, and community uplift," the distinguished board and leadership team of BBF quickly realized—more was required.
Programmatically more, is adding a high school component to the middle and elementary school components. Infrastructurally more, is an expanded and gender diversified board of individuals with targeted skills, hiring a new full-time program coordinator and searching for a full-time executive director. Relationally more, is deepening existing relationships with current partners, leveraging new partnerships, and mobilizing prominent men to create opportunities for the youth. More, is financially more than robust funding from philanthropic entities that recognize BBF's work value.
Value from Breedlove's perspective is also captured in BBF's students' success stories. "We are most proud of the young people who come back and say we made a difference. There was Caylan, who went on to be a Rhode Scholar. He said the first time somebody put a book in his hand was at our program. His brother Chase came back to speak at our scholarship event. One of our young men is at Tuskegee in his third year. He says anytime he runs into challenges and needs a second opinion, we are always there for him."
What does Bridge Builders Foundation really do? They love on and lift up Black youth. How do they do it? By inundating youth with positive relationships, relevant programs, and resources designed to change the trajectory of their lives. So, whether it's the recently launched Youth Ambassador Program where they pay their high school students to mentor their elementary students giving high schoolers good work experience, or the newly added Black suicide component where psychologists Dr. Josette Banks and Dr. Cheryl Grills talk with youth about stigmas and warning signs, or the program for young ladies led by Principal Dr. Tosha Bunn-Bell and other female leaders, the goal is to build as many bridges to success as possible.
In January 2022, one of the most innovative bridges yet takes place with BBF's new STEAM Program launch. This Saturday academy will run from January thru June on the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus. As explained by Breedlove, "One weekend they have classroom instruction and hands-on experiments—the next week, field instructions. Because we added a high school component to the elementary and middle school component, we are now able to create a pipeline via the high school component following them all the way through high school to give more extensive supports."
I asked Breedlove, as president of one of Los Angeles' most transformative community-based organizations, what he wants Black boys and girls to know as they move through life. His answer: "That the sky is the limit. There are going to be challenges beyond your control, but you can calibrate around them."
You can follow Bridge Builders Foundation on their website at bridgebuildersla.org, on Facebook at Bridge Builders Foundation LA, and on LinkedIn at Bridge Builders Foundation Los Angeles.