Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks.
A Kalamazoo native and proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Reverend Mo attended Northeastern Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, and “the great Kalamazoo Central High School.” He went on to graduate from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s in social psychology. A number of summers ago, he also served as a youth development worker in CIS Think Summer!
Reverend Mo is the Director of Youth Ministries at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a position he’s held for almost three years. He’s written a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You, and is working on another book, also geared to youth. And still, he makes volunteering with youth in the schools a priority. For the past two years, he’s volunteered with CIS at Kalamazoo Central High School, supporting young men in a group that meets on a weekly basis. The young men have named the group, KC Men of Change.
Alright, Reverend Mo: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Thinking back on your years as a student in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was your favorite teacher?
I’d have to say my favorites were my English teacher, Mrs. [Sandra] Daam and Mr. [Topher] Barrett. He was a forensic coach and I was also in his drama class. Mr. Barrett was patient and challenged me to be a leader. Mrs. Daam was loving and hard. Oh, she was hard! But a loving hard. She helped me out a lot.
How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?
For me, the work is really meaningful, especially because when I was their age, I wish that I could have been a part of something like this, to have someone help me make wise decisions, and challenge me.
Last year, I was able to meet with them twice a week and this year, we’re meeting once a week. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to go back to doing the group twice a week. When we meet, I’m able to ask the hard questions of them because of my experience growing up, and we have deep conversations. I like impacting them in a positive way.
I sense a great deal of respect for our youth, whether it is here at the church, in the schools, or in the community. Kalamazoo cares about its young men and women.
CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough said one of the most impactful sessions for the students was one that had to do with self-love.
Yes, Deb wanted to have a few sessions that combined both the males and females [Young Women with a Purpose], so we did. I had them list five or more people that they love. I then asked them to name the things they do for them because they love them. They identified things like I protect them, I’m loyal to them, I make sacrifices, and so on. I asked them to list five more people they love and then asked, Now how long does the list have to be until you’re on it? It was an eye-opener for them. Too often, our young people aren’t taking care of themselves because they’re busy worrying about others. We then talked about loving ourselves and how that involves things like trusting one’s self and protecting one’s self.
When it comes to engaging our youth, what do adults often forget?
I think they forget that they were once a youth and, along with that, they forget their mistakes.
I can remember my mistakes vividly. In 2015, I wrote a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You. In it, I share my own struggles of when I was in high school, my mistakes and regrets, as well as being somebody who I wasn’t. Students often struggle with that.
Sometimes, adults do too!
Yes, and while the book is geared to youth, I’ve had adults who have read it tell me: I’ve needed this!
When it comes to working with young people and connecting with them, what’s your secret?
One, recall your own youth and know your own mistakes. Also, know that their emotions and feelings are real. Too often we can cast them aside or don’t recognize them. Youth don’t always share their feelings but just because they aren’t communicating them to the world, doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the feelings. They may be bottling them up, so offering them a safe space to bring out and express their feelings can help. When I share my story, my path, and the wrong things I’ve done, that helps get the process going. They see this guy wearing a suit and tie, and think, well, he has baggage and pain and if he can open like that, maybe I can too. And they start sharing, because now we’ve got this trust thing going on and are connecting on a deeper level, having real conversations.
Speaking of suit and ties, Deborah Yarbrough also mentioned that you implemented a “Dress for Success” day and that that too, was a huge hit and brought the group closer together, identifying even more as a team.
Actually, it wasn’t me but the young men who came up with the idea! Each week, I come wearing a suit and tie to group. We had a tie session last year and taught the young men to tie ties. Last year, the group decided to have a dress up day and it went so well we thought, why not keep this going? And so, this year we had another tie session and then another dress up day!
What are you currently reading?
I’m always reading and listening to books. Right now, I’m listening to Meet Generation Z. It’s written by James Emery White. He takes a look at this next generation that follows the Millennials, or “Generation Z.” He explores the trends, how culture is shifting, how we can reach these young people, minister to them, and serve them.
What is one way, according to the book, that we can reach this next generation?
Answer their questions. With the age we are living in, young people have a lot of questions. We need to listen to those questions and have answers.
James Emery White points out that we are living in a post-Christian world, one in which the norm is that people are no longer connected to a religion. More often than not, as a minister I’ll hear, I don’t have any religion. I’m spiritual, but I don’t belong anywhere. This generation is asking, Is religion necessary? Is it relevant?
What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?
I feel like a lot of people have the inability to self-assess. I want to know, how can I grow? What could I have done better? We live in a blame generation. So, when things go wrong, it’s easy to point the finger and blame anybody but ourselves. But if we stop and assess ourselves, recognize hey, I could do this or that better, well, when we do that, we can move forward. If everybody did that, we could really move forward. We need to self-assess.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
The importance of habits as well as practicing those habits. By training on whatever you’re working on, you can build upon good habits. While I’m always learning, that’s the big one right now: habits.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
During my elementary years, I’d have to say it was Mr. Gary Vanstreain. He was our basketball coach at Northeastern Elementary School. He was so positive, caring, and challenging, and would give you the shirt off his back.
In middle school, there were quite a few. I’ll go with my coach at Hillside, Steve Dunning. He was a disciplinarian and made sure you were on track and what you needed to do to stay on track. Even outside of the court, outside of basketball season, he cared and was on me. He showed that tough love.
In high school, it was Pastor James Harris. I will never forget, I was in a low moment in my life and Pastor Harris came to my house, spoke with me and prayed with me. He set out on a notecard representing where I was and then set out another notecard showing me where I could be, my potential. I doubt he’d remember that, but that moment really impacted me.
Then, in my college years, it was my own pastor, Pastor Moore. He really poured into me, invested in me, mentored and disciplined me.
Thank you, Reverend Mo, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
Tags: CIS, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Deborah Yarbrough, Hillside Middle School, Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo Public Schools, KC Men of Change, Meet Generation Z, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Northeastern Elementary School, Pastor James Harris, Pastor Moore, Reverend Morris "Mo" Brooks, Sandra Daam, Steve Dunning, Sweetwater's Donuts Mill, Topher Barrett, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You, youth development workers