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Q & A: Princeton Carter ’20 Talks about My Brother’s Keeper NOLA

Photo by Jonas Powell '18
Photo by Jonas Powell '18

By Sam Blum '18

Sam Blum '18: Hey Princeton. I'm looking to ask you just a few questions about the work you've done, which is pretty cool. For people who aren't familiar with My Brother's Keeper, how would you explain what it is exactly that you do and how you got started doing it?

Princeton Carter '20: My Brother's Keeper NOLA is a community service organization that I created as a rising freshman in high school. I created it for the New Orleans community, and originally it was to combat homelessness. We later expanded to help people who had been affected by Katrina or who were struggling with unemployment – really anywhere we thought people really needed help. We gathered donations – clothes, books, lots of things. We did a "Dress for Success" drive where we gathered dress clothes for young people looking to present well in job interviews.

SB: Eighth grade or freshman year is pretty young to get involved, let alone start an organization. Was there a specific moment or time where you felt this was something you had to do?

PC: My mother used to work by the Claiborne Bridge, under which there was a large population of homeless people. Going and coming from her office, we would always see a lot of these people. One time, this guy had his veteran's card – his identification and where he served – and I said to my mom and sister, "how does this veteran who fought for our freedoms end up homeless?" Me being very young, I didn't understand how this happened. We talked about it in the car and we decided that this should not happen, that we need to do something about it. We came to the conclusion that there's something we can do by serving these people who've served us. That's when we started doing community service. I keep saying "we" because I got a lot of help from my mom and my sister, who especially helped me with a lot of ideas of how to fundraise effectively.

SB: Even though you're here at Wesleyan now, are you still involved in the organization? Are you passing the torch to new people?

PC: Obviously, it would be very difficult for me to have the same impact on the organization here as I did in New Orleans. What I ended up doing was giving it to my sister – she's running it now. I have a solid role giving her advice and helping her get the word out on social media. I try to give her wisdom and advice about how to go about certain things, but other than that she's really the head right now.

SB: I have a little sister too, so I can appreciate that bond. Now that you've taken a step back and you can sort of reflect on your experience, what are some special moments or things you've learned that you'd like to share?

PC: There were certainly a lot of cherished moments that have changed me, but the one that was the most powerful came at the very beginning, when I was just getting into it. There's a lot of paperwork to raise money as a non-profit and people are often skeptical, so we ended up raising gift cards instead. So we had a Thanksgiving drive in cooperation with the local grocery store (they were very helpful), where people could donate gift cards of different amounts. We brought them to Volunteers of America, they were very helpful as well in distributing them to families in need through the veteran database. I got to meet one of these families – it was two twin girls and the mother, who served in Iraq I believe. The thing is, who can't know just from looking who's actually in need – they look just like any other stranger. But the look on their faces was one of such powerful gratitude. The mother had so much hope and grace in her eyes. She said thank you so much and we took a picture and shook hands – it was amazing. You don't really know the impact of $50 until you meet the people you're impacting. They ended up using that money to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner, and we later helped them move into a new apartment. They were homeless before, and it was amazing to see how far they'd come. These are people who are part of your community. There's no "they;" it's more of a "we" idea. And their home was really a home, with pictures, memories – these aren't "those people" or anything like that. That's the most important experience I've had with My Brother's Keeper.

SB: That's such an amazing experience. It's really incredible work you've done. I wonder if your exceptional work in your community – being a citizen who's active and aware and charitable – did that draw to Wesleyan at all, or make you feel connected to the student body here?

PC: What really drew me to Wesleyan the most was how much they care about inclusion. You know, when you think about veterans in the South, you probably think of a middle-aged white man in full uniform and buzz cut. But in the story I just told you, it was a young woman of color and her two daughters. She blends in with the community; she's someone who you might see in the grocery store and let them go in front of you in line. There's nothing "different" about them, they just happen to be struggling due to the way the system is. So a lot of times, you don't see students of color pushed to look at colleges of very high academic stature. Academics and athletics are also clearly important, but the main thing was the look for people of all shapes and sizes, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds. I could see all these people and relate to them through music or food or sports – that's what really drew me to Wesleyan.

SB: A follow-up question I have is with all these different things you're involved in – the organization as well as academics, athletics, social activities – how have you managed to balance all these different aspects of your life?

PC: The first thing is, particularly in regards to the organization, is focusing in on one task at a time. You plan ahead – we'll do three events this month, two next month, and because exams are coming up the following month we'll just have one big event. You know your limits, and you don't want to over-stretch yourself, especially as a student. The biggest thing about balancing and organizing is making sure you have people around you to help. It wasn't just my mom and my sister – it was also Volunteers of America, and my extended family, plus neighbors, childhood friends. A lot of times when you try to start something big like this, you get a fair amount of pushback but you also find a lot of people who really want to help. You find these people who really want to be a part of what you're doing. You really can't do any of this alone.

SB: To me, it seems very special that you're not just helping a community but you're doing it as a community. It's really admirable how often you look to credit the people around you and acknowledge the team effort that makes this work. I have one more question for you. Right now we seem to be in a political moment where people really want to get involved on so many different levels. As somebody who was really successful in seeing a situation and taking action, what advice would you give to people, young or old, about getting involved and taking those first steps.

PC: My faith helped me from the very beginning. Sometimes you're just by yourself, and I thank God for guiding me through all these different obstacles. The second thing is surrounding yourself with people who aren't just helpful but knowledgeable. Asking my mom, who knows how to plan social events, or asking my dad about how to approach people. The third thing is being sure you stay true to your purpose, accepting help but keeping your purpose. Chance the Rapper just won a Grammy without a label, and he said "independence is power," which is a very powerful statement. You want to let people help, but you have to be sure that you're not changing what you set out to do, your vision. You have to surround yourself with people who are all working towards the same goals.

SB: Thank you so much! This is such a cool story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

PC: Of course. It's a pleasure to talk about it.

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