Charles Caine has a dream. Just like Martin Luther King understood civil rights include economic rights, Caine wants to give all people an opportunity to prosper. That mission starts with his two sons (ages 16 and 13) and the other youth he mentors in North Minneapolis as the president and executive director of Brothers EMpowered.
Caine founded the community mentorship organization in 2014 to help men of color overcome the barriers in their lives and the lives in their communities. His inspiration came from years of struggling as a young Black man in urban America. After overcoming many challenges and barriers in his life, from gang violence to chemical dependency, the turning point came when he became a father. He realized that he had a lot to give and lose. So he committed himself to become a positive leader and role model in his community.
Now, the 38-year-old single father is a pillar in the community, teaching youth how they can become positive contributors to the community. Caine shared his story and vision for the future of Brothers EMpowered during a public conversation on March 27 with Minneapolis City Council candidate Alicia Gibson, who is running for the Ward 10 seat and providing opportunities for people to hear about important issues from voices that often aren’t heard.
“I used to be a stickup kid, selling drugs, getting into trouble, hurting the community,” said Caine, who went to North Community High School in North Minneapolis. “I was cold and emotionless, how many kids act today, thinking this is the way to be a man. Show no emotion, be heartless. But I realized that’s not what being a man is. A man can show emotion. A man respects women, his mother, grandmother. A man supports his family and helps his community.”
Today, Caine is a champion for peace, hope and change. Brothers EMpowered works with youth starting at the age of 9 and provides life coaching, mentorship, healing and restoration, business training, community peacekeeping, and community outreach.
Caine understands the frustration and neglect kids feel at this moment. His life experience makes him relatable and gives him credibility and has helped Brothers EMpowered establish a strong connection within the community in North Minneapolis.
“The kids are very receptive to the message,” Caine said. “I don’t get a lot of friction.”
And if he does get any friction, he doesn’t give up on kids. He keeps bringing them back into the mix until they see he really cares, and he earns their trust and respect.
“Real recognize real,” Caine explains. “They realize I’m not going to let them down, like their dad who said he would pick him up at school but never showed up. This is not about me, my or I. This is about we, us and ours. It’s a collective. It’s a we thing. It’s bigger than individuals. It’s about us.”
Caine and a team of volunteers lead the community engagement mentorship program and teach youth how to engage with their community by giving back. They have organized food share programs, school equipment drives and more. Through the programming and services of Brothers EMpowered, inner-city youth learn skills to develop leadership, accountability, discipline, self-respect, good work ethics, and a positive sense of purpose and direction — skills that can close the opportunity gap and help youth reach their full potential.
Everyone deserves an opportunity to reach their full potential. But not everyone gets that opportunity. As the late Congressman John Conyers wrote in 2013: “The most obvious failure to achieve equality is in the economic realm. … We can never truly form a more perfect union until income, wealth and opportunity are made more equal.”
We continue to have an opportunity gap in America, and public safety has become a pressing issue in Minneapolis because of it. Since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in 2020, violence is up, and public morale is down across Minneapolis. The crime problem is primarily in the 3rd and 4th Precincts, but everyone living in Minneapolis is being impacted. The saddest part is that many of the people committing crimes and being hurt or killed are young people.
“There are so many factors,” said Caine at a Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) public safety forum in October 2020. “It’s an economic issue, job, housing, drug and chemical dependency issue. We have a large rate of homeless teens in this country. The educational and economic gap between Black and white is one of the worst in the nation. The main thing that we have been addressing and can address as an organization is mentorship. Bring back that village mentality. That uncle mentality. I’m a product of a mentor. So I know that it works personally.”
Bringing back the village is how we all can thrive. As Caine often says to youth, “A man don’t work, a man don’t eat.” But what happens when there aren’t enough jobs, training programs or educational opportunities? You make your own.
Caine started Honor Roll Athletics, a youth-run clothing and apparel company that is connected to Brothers EMpowered. They make and sell T-shirts, hats, backpacks and other merchandise to teach youth business skills and provide real-world leadership training. His latest initiative is called Black on Black Love and deals with the issue of black-on-black crime. It’s a movement to promote peace and a call for people to put the guns down.
Changing generations of economic injustice is not easy. Just as it can be soul-fulfilling work, it can be soul-draining. Like many entrepreneurial, grassroot ventures, resources and funding are big challenges for Caine and Brothers EMpowered. Caine has had moments of doubt and questioned whether he should throw in the towel. But he won’t give up on the kids. Too many people already have. And he knows these kids have the talent to succeed, if only they are given the chance. So he keeps leading by example, showing what is possible with hard work, humility and wisdom.
“My dream is to have a youth center that can be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Caine. “We could have tutoring, training and role models. It could be a place to meet after school and on weekends. We could have a summer program. It would be a place for refuge and opportunity. … I have had mothers tell me they would love for us to help their sons, but we need resources and funding.”
Brothers EMpowered is making a difference in Minneapolis. Charles Caine and the community mentorship organization have shown what is possible by giving back. Now is the time to give back to Brothers EMpowered and create a foundation of economic equity for everyone. By working together, we can build that village we all need.
To support the work of Brothers EMpowered and help equip inner-city youth to excel, give today.