What is the Brothers Rise Up Program?

History and Purpose:

The Brothers Rise Up (BRU) program was established by Jim Cook as a program of Midwest Sports Academy to help minority male students in need of mentoring and support. This is a multi-year program that is meant to provide long-term support for students throughout their years in school, starting in Grade 3. In 2019, the program was introduced in School District U-46 and served 115 students.
Some intended results of the program are to ensure the students’ ongoing participation in the years ahead by building relationships among their peers at school and across the district, to reward and recognize the boys for their accomplishments, and to provide educational opportunities (e.g. field trips and college visits) that they may have not experienced.


The program’s mission is to empower youth to enhance their education, develop life skills and overcome challenges.     


The BRU program is available for 3rd-8th graders and focuses on monitoring and improving the students’ academic performance, attendance, and behavior and offers a curriculum with character development, social skills, leadership, academic excellence and career development. 




Brothers Rise Up envisions youth to have the power to rise above life’s challenges and create vital, better lives for themselves and their communities in the present and for the future.

The program is facilitated by a staff member (Champion of Character Leader) who has several years of experience working with young males. All are welcome. We primarily focus on issues dealing with minority males, implementing portions of a model from the Boston Public Schools founded in 2007 (10 Boys Initiative).

We meet weekly with a group of up to eight students during the school day for the entire school year. Students meet during the school day, so no extra transportation is required.

Our goal is to support students at school and to participate in some activities that boys are involved in outside of school to help build relationships with them. We also keep in contact with the students during the summer to see how they are doing.



In U-46, there is a need for additional support for African-American students, especially boys. The 2019 Illinois Report Card indicates an achievement gap for Black students in the state and in U-46. Some comparisons of students “meeting or exceeding” the standards for English Language Arts (Level 4-5):
Grade 3
State-36.4%; U-46-17.7%; State/Black students-22.2%;
U-46/Black students-7.3%
Grade 8
State-39.6%; U-46-32.0%; State/Black students-18.2%;
U-46/Black students- 12.8%

In addition, the Chronic Absenteeism rate for U-46 is 20.4% but is
37.5% for Black students. 

Criteria, Targeted Students and Eligibility   

A student is recommended by school staff because he is in need of support and may demonstrate one or more of the following criteria.

 Boys benefitting most from this program are those:

  • Demonstrating leadership potential and making smart decisions
  • Lacking academic skills and in need of support
  • Needing social skills development
  • Lacking a positive male influence/role model in his life 
  • Coming from a low-income household (qualifying for free/reduced lunch)
  • Not already receiving special services from the school district.


The boys mentored in the Brothers Rise Up program during 2019-20 in U-46 were in Grades 3-8 and are chiefly African-American males, but also with some Hispanic and mixed race participants. The students are recommended by school staff (principals, social workers, teachers) who believe the program will benefit the students. The boys attended eleven schools across the school district – four middle schools (7th-8th graders) and seven elementary schools (3rd-6th graders), along with some students from the Dream Academy

In 2019-20, male minority students in Grades 3-8 were identified by school staff and invited to participate in the program. The same students will continue in 2020-21 as the eighth graders move on to high school. Students entering Grade 3 will be identified by staff and invited to participate. Written parent permission is required, and parents are expected to support the students and participate as requested.

The students meet as a group (of up to eight) once a week for approximately 40-45 minutes during the school day. Most groups meet in the morning – before school, during an early class or during lunch.

Most schools have two groups.  At elementary schools, boys in Grades 3 and 4 meet as a group; those in Grades 5 and 6 meet together. Middle schools with two groups separate 7th graders from 8th graders; otherwise they are combined.

Each group is convened by an adult male facilitator, a Champion of Character Leader, who follows a curriculum of discussions and activities focused on character development, social skills, academic excellence, career development and leadership. The program focuses on monitoring and improving the students’ progress.

 The Champion of Character Leader begins each group with a lecture or introduction (10 min.) then leads an activity or discussion for 25-30 minutes. Topics are related to program values and attributes such as character, leadership, decision-making and other areas of interest related to the needs of the students.

To improve academic performance, the Champion of Character Leader stresses the importance of “knowledge is power.” The projected outcomes are that the participant will maintain or improve school attendance, maintain or improve grades or progress reporting in school, and develop or improve extracurricular activities and career aspirations and choices.   

To implement life skills education, the leader presents information via formal workshops or informal discussions (Hot Topics). The projected outcomes are that participants will increase knowledge of harmful effects of behavior, bullying and social media abuse; gain knowledge and conflict resolution skills; improve decision-making and problem-solving skills; and make mature choices.   

To improve parental involvement, the leader informs parents that their participation is required for their youth to participate. The intended outcomes are to increase: the parental monitoring of academic performance; their understanding of child and adolescent developmental stages and appropriate expectations; foster their positive and effective communication with children and teens regarding behavior, social skills, academics and other life skills; and encourage activities that promote positive family interaction. 

To increase participation in sports activities and cultural/artistic activities, the leader facilitates activities integrated with team building. With funds available, the director plans field trips and outings to destinations such as community colleges, universities, museums, Windy City Bulls, Chicago Bulls, White Sox, Chicago Cubs, The Main Event, cultural centers, and libraries. The intended outcomes are to provide opportunities for participants to engage in cultural enrichment and fine art activities; demonstrate sportsmanship and athletic skills; and increase their level of extracurricular activity.   

During Year One, the Covid-19 pandemic led to schools being closed in March, so the personal contact among the participants ended; however, the program continued via weekly Zoom meetings. Boys and their families were appreciative of the ongoing support of Brothers Rise Up.


Year One Summary – (Sept., 2019-March 13, 2020*)

  • 115 Students
  • 1 Facilitator/Champion of Character Leader
  • Minority Boys in Grades 3-8
  • 11 Schools Across U-46:  4 Middle Schools and 7 Elementary Schools; some students from the Dream Academy
  • Weekly 40-60 Minute Groups
  • Volunteer Guest Speakers and Role Models
  • Field Trips and College Visits
  • Required Parent Participation
  • Met with Principals and Students Individually

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were closed in March.

The program continued via Zoom group meetings through the end of the school year/June.

Summer – 2020

In an effort to provide support to the students in Brothers Rise Up, mentoring was provided via Zoom, once a week from June 9–August 7. The 50 participants were provided a sandwich lunch delivered to their homes as an incentive/reward.


Who is a Champion of Character Leader?

A Champion of Character Leader (COCL) is a person who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling positive behaviors. An effective Champion of Character Leader understands that his or her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned in to the needs of the person.

The Champion of Character Leader facilitates small group activities weekly, holds informal discussions, monitors academic performance, discusses career exposure and professions, and performs routine check-ins. All interactions should demonstrate positivity.

The intended outcomes of these interactions between COCLs and participants are to increase support to youth during times of personal or social stress, support decision-making, access support with academics and promote opportunities for career awareness and mentoring. The developmental assets to be gained are for student participants to have a connection with a caring adult and believe they can be successful, make good decisions, and have a bright future.

The Champion of Character Leaders will keep in contact with the students during the summer months to see how they are doing. This program is not intended to take the place of professional counseling or therapy. As facilitators, we do not make any diagnosis or treat conditions. If we encounter issues or problems that need professional attention, we notify parents immediately and can recommend community resources for counseling.

Our confidentiality policy is, “What is said in the room stays in room,” and we require that all students and facilitators honor this policy by not repeating what others say about themselves or their lives.


Program Attributes and Values


Through character development, Brothers Rise Up participants gain the ability to deal with life’s challenges and go on to flourish throughout life. Young males will be able to demonstrate positive behavior traits and the ability to reflect on their thoughts and feelings.     

Social Skills

Social interaction and communication are stressed. Students explore social rules and relationships that are created and communicated in verbal and nonverbal ways.


Academic Excellence

Academic excellence is the process by which students are motivated to learn, think and excel with their educational achievements and have a positive influence in their community.

Career Development

Our focus is to guide students to begin thinking about and planning for their future career. We encourage each one to seek guidance from parents, teachers, principals and career counselors and to choose a career according to his talent, interest and financial resources. We review with them once they express an interest in a career.


We share with each student that: “Leadership is not about you. It’s about investing in the growth of others.”


Respect Listening               

Kindness                    Strong Morals
Citizenship                Character

Your Identity
Stop and think before you act and speak.

Doing the Right Thing + No Reward = Expected
Life is all about how you handle yourself.