Ashanti Branch saw a great need and nothing being done.
He was a high school math teacher, and he noticed that there were programs to support college-bound students and to help students struggling with academics. But there was nothing for the kids most at-risk of dropping out and impacted by violence: young men of color.
So he did what he could to fill the void, creating a club where young men gathered weekly in a circle with mentors to “do emotional healing work.”
Eleven years later, The Ever Forward Club is going strong at multiple high schools and middle schools in the East Bay, including three Oakland schools where Branch works or has worked: Montera, ARISE and Fremont High (also his alma mater).
Students also take an annual trip to Southern California to visit colleges.
“Our vision is helping young men come to a space and know who they are, and understand that what they’ve gone through in the past, they can get through it,” Branch said. “This too, will pass. If you don’t have a vision of that, it will never change, though, you will act in a defeated attitude.”
And now, Branch is seeing others notice the importance of this work. Branch and student members of The Ever Forward Club are featured in the documentary film “The Mask You Live In,” which asks the question: As a society, how are we failing our young boys?
Branch attended the Sundance Film Festival with the filmmakers and will be debuting the film on March 4 at Impact Hub Oakland.
“Ten years ago, I knew that there was a great need for the social-emotional support of our young men,” Branch said. “Now more people are saying they can see the problem too, in prisons, in schools with the drop-out rate. When more people say, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s an issue’, then we can start to come to some solutions.”
The Ever Forward Club’s 24-hour Relay, its annual fundraiser, will take place May 23-24. For more information, visit www.everforwardclub.org.