WHAT WE DO
"The battles that count
aren't the ones
for gold medals.
The struggles within yourself–the invisible, inevitable battles
inside all of us–
that's where it's at."
Native Sons is committed to generously investing in the intellectual growth of at-risk youth who are trapped in the juvenile justice system. Our mission is to help those kids find their way toward literacy in order to give them options that might lead to healthier futures. We refuse to settle for a 70% recidivism rate by ignoring their needs.
For the past two years, Native Sons has built mentorship relationships with juvenile detention facilites and at-risk high schools. Several of our members, some of whom are re-entered citizens, periodically visit young men inside facilities to deliver new books and talk to them about life. Additional times, phone/video calls are facilitated between Keith LaMar (who remains incarcerated) and groups/classes of teenagers. These exchanges are powerful and authentic, funny and heart-breaking. Most of all, Native Sons mentorship relationships connect young people trapped in the system with those who have been/are there, too; these encounters serve as a reminder to at-risk youth that their lives matter and that it's not too late to turn away from the temptations that will ultimately destroy their lives.
As we expand our reach, Native Sons seeks to develop new relationships with juvenile detention facilities. Those who welcome establishing a connection between their youth and Native Sons mentors (some of whom have either re-entered society after a period of incarceration or are still serving long-term sentences) are encouraged to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding inspiration through other people's stories is one way to build dreams and open doors that encourage young people to do important introspective work and, ultimately, forge a new path. The relationship between literacy development and the greatly reduced rates of return to prison (recidivism) presents an amazing opportunity for action. Native Sons has already begun flooding youth facilities with books and reading materials to inspire critical thinking among the young men doing time there. We're building libraries to give young kids the tools they'll need to survive.
Sending in books isn't just some random act of kindness, either. Keith LaMar, founder of Native Sons, has made it his personal mission to take what went wrong in his life and turn it into something good. Indeed, LaMar found his way back to himself even while serving life in prison. This was made possible largely through the mentorship of a few solid older guys who saw his worth and invested in him. Their guidance, along with the powerful words of writers such as Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kahlil Gibran, Claude McKay, James Baldwin, Herman Hesse, George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Elaine Brown, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur, made an enormous impact. Most importantly, literacy gave LaMar the mental freedom he needed to navigate his life, even from solitary confinement.
“These were my guides, the people on whom I relied to help me untangle the complexities of life," LaMar explained about his favorite writers to a group of Cleveland youth.
In 2014, LaMar aimed to add his voice when he published his own book, Condemned, wherein he writes about his journey and transformation in prison. He details how he ultimately landed on Ohio's death row when he was just in his early 20s and the direction his life has taken since. Native Sons has donated hundreds of copies of LaMar's books to juvenile detention centers.
Additionally, we have raised money to purchase other poignant books, including dozens of copies of Ta-Nehisi Coates' inspirational book, Between the World and Me, in our effort to help establish libraries for young men serving time.
Author Book Donations
Inspired by one of Keith LaMar's fundraisers to benefit youth in Cleveland's inner-city juvenile detention facilities, Shaka Senghor, writer and member of Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul 100, donated 100 copies of his New York Bestselling book, Writing my Wrongs, to Native Sons.
Additional projects that Native Sons is involved in and/or developing:
Backpack Initiative (Community Project)
Native Sons provides Back-to-School-Backpacks filled with necessary school materials to inner-city youth to kick off a successful academic year. Donations are being accepted!
Literacy Curriculum (Facility Project)
Some 80% of juvenile offenders are illiterate below the third grade. Native Sons is developing a multi-level literacy curriculum (from very low all the way up to very high) to help combat mass incarceration from the inside out.
Self-Study Materials (Facility and Community Project)
At Native Sons, we are working to develop self-study and small-group study materials to allow juveniles to better navigate specific books and/or start small-group book clubs.