For all students, the transition from a hometown to a college campus calls for struggle in finding community and a sense of belonging. For Black students, these feats are magnified — especially at predominantly white institutions, where identifying with a small minority can make it difficult for the university community to feel like home. However, here at the University of Miami, Black students bind together to embrace their own community and often pave the way for future Black spaces and leaders to be created. Many times, UM students find themselves immersed in the cultural landscape of the city of Miami and feel prompted to extend their skills and initiative beyond campus in order to give back.
Fifth-year graduate student Nysier Brooks captures and fulfills this desire. A student-athlete at the U, Brooks makes sure to designate his time spent off the basketball court toward multiple outreach programs, servicing those whose backgrounds resemble his own upbringing.
Empower Youth, a nonprofit organization, provides at-risk youth with employment experience through food truck service and offers an alternative to the discrimination their communities are historically and disproportionately prone to.
“It’s outreach that helps [kids] get away from their [toxic] environments and grants them an outlet to sustain a source of income,” Brooks said.
Raised in west Philadelphia, Brooks is a long way from home, but he finds similarities between his own neighborhood and the Miami youth he now volunteers for. What drew him specifically to becoming involved with Empower Youth was the opportunity to help kids who “are growing up just like [he] did.”
“They’re in tough situations. They may not have both parents at home, and there’s violence around them. They try to be good, but it’s hard when you’re surrounded by bad,” he explained. “It makes me feel so good when I see them learn something they can use in the real world, and something positive comes out of their day [in return].”
Brooks has found that Miami’s young generation is composed of well-intended adolescents who just need a bit of guidance — which he’s always more than willing to offer.
“As long as somebody wants help, I’m here to [extend a hand],” he exclaimed.
Brooks doesn’t stop there. He also volunteers with Best Buddies, where he assists handicapped adults. Brooks has family members who deal with disabilities as well and believes it’s critical to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
“We try to show them that they’re normal people. This world can be cruel to individuals who are a little different,” he continued. “I have family members with visible special needs, and people tend to feel uncomfortable interacting with them. In my eyes, everyone is equal. We all walk on [one] Earth.”
Brooks draws inspiration to give back from his own family. Growing up with ten siblings, he said his mother would still make sure a childhood friend was fed when they walked through their doors.
“It made me realize this doesn’t just have to be [within] my family. I can help other people wherever I’m at,” he proclaimed. “I’m a strong Black man who kids [admire] because of how far I’ve come in life, and it’s a good feeling to know they’re listening. They’re trying to make a difference, just as I am.”
Brooks’s selfless commitment to and passion for service is as a true reflection of the Black ingenuity that exists here at the U — something to be highlighted especially this February, but forever commended.
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