Education has the power to transform lives, but in the United States, not all classrooms are created equal. The socioeconomic inequities that pervade the country’s education system have had a disproportionate impact on Black children; contributing to an ever-growing achievement gap and often clouding their sight when it comes to envisioning a limitless future and seeing beyond their circumstances. Social entrepreneur Taylor Culliver is on a mission to change the narrative and cultivate spaces where Black boys can feel seen, heard and valued through the creation of his nonprofit Brother Box.
While coming of age in Bay Minette—a tight-knit city nestled in the state of Alabama—Culliver bared witness to how cycles of adversity could have a detrimental impact on one’s upbringing. Research shows within the state although Black students who live in affluent areas academically perform better than those whose households are in impoverished neighborhoods, there remains a persistent achievement gap between Black and white students.
Within his household, his parents created a nurturing environment that foundationally empowered him and his brother to believe in the beauty of their dreams, seize opportunities and prioritize paying it forward. However, Culliver was well-aware other youths within his community weren’t afforded the same support that was displayed by his parents.
As he emerged into his adolescent years, Culliver was hit with another realization. He experienced difficulty with finding his place in the world and navigating the pressures of not succumbing to the standards imposed by his community and society as a whole. It was in the midst of those challenges when Culliver found his strength. As a young Black man, he decided to unapologetically embrace himself, lean into the power of his authenticity and silence the projections of society.
“A lot of my upbringing informed the approach that I take with Brother Box,” Culliver told NewsOne. “You have to be yourself. That’s the baseline. It’s a discipline that you have to craft throughout your life because there are always going to be influences that will try to tell you who to be and the way to present yourself to the world. Being Black isn’t a monolith. We are all varied and creative and have our own talents and our own gifts that we bring to the world, so you don’t have to feel like you have to fit into one mold of what it means to be Black. At the same time, it also means that you don’t have to assimilate or aspire to whiteness in the way that society wants us to.”
On the heels of the tumultuous 2016 presidential election, as many individuals put the focus on turning their outrage into activism, Culliver spent time in deep reflection; determined to find a lane in which he could be a catalyst for transformative change.
“I wanted to do something, but my activism may not have looked like attending a protest,” he said. “I went through this process of really trying to identify what my form of activism looked like.”
In 2018—after returning to his hometown to be highlighted as part of a celebratory Black History Month event—reflecting on how Bay Minette instrumentally shaped his journey prompted him to merge the value of service instilled by his parents with his passion to uplift Black children in a world where they are often subjected to the polarizing effects of racial injustice. April of that same year, he decided to activate his activism and launched Brother Box; a grassroots social good project designed to empower and inspire Black boys.
What started as a hyperlocal initiative created to provide 100 boys in Bay Minette with care packages during the summer of 2018 has emerged into a movement. Since its inception, Brother Box has distributed more than 5,500 care packages to Black boys throughout the country, in cities that include New York, Birmingham, San Francisco and Greenville.
The boxes are far from your typical care packages. Each one is intentionally curated by Culliver, with inspirational quotes and imagery emblazoned on the boxes to serve as a reminder to dream big and items like books, ties, headphones, snacks and toiletries packed inside. “It was a testament to this idea that though the box is a small token, it’s the symbolism of being able to tell someone I see you, I value you, I support you, I appreciate the gifts and the talents that you bring to the world,” he shared. “That’s what the box represents.”
For Culliver—who says the foundational elements of his organization are derived from his personal core values of authenticity, community, courage, curiosity, and hope—his nonprofit is about far more than delivering boxes, but yet delivering a source of inspiration that will help Black boys develop a solid sense of self-efficacy. The organization has hosted an array of events introducing youngsters to career fields where they are often underrepresented.
Studies revealed the influence of a mentor can change the trajectory of an individual’s life. The power of mentorship has been a common thread throughout Culliver’s journey. Whether it was through informal candid conversations at the local barbershop or chats with his mentor while navigating the media industry, he’s experienced the impact of holistic mentorship.
“Mentorship is important especially when it pertains to the Black community and Black boys,” said Culliver. “The world is moving in a way that I think Black male mentorship should be a lot more human-centered and holistic. A lot of mentorships happen organically. We have to take a holistic approach that is rooted in this idea that even though our mentees are younger than us they’re still whole people who bring a ton of their own experiences, thoughts and opinions to those conversations. There are a lot of opportunities for us as a Black community to continue to drive that conversation forward.”
Culliver also wants to use his nonprofit as an avenue to foster conversations around eradicating the mental health stigma within the Black community.
“We can’t be good mentors if we can’t understand the importance of mental health in that conversation. Our youth were born into systems of inequity. Born into an unjust and uncompassionate world. The truth of the matter is Black communities don’t have access to the same mental health resources as white people. We have to advocate and fight for the resources that are necessary to broaden that awareness.”
As far as what’s on the horizon for Brother Box, Culliver plans to expand its programmatic initiatives. The organization has launched a motivational text series for middle school students, a virtual community-focused curriculum program for rising ninth-graders so they can build a strong foundation to thrive in high school and an initiative dubbed Brothers of Higher Learning to help rising college freshmen have a smooth transition into their postsecondary journeys.
“From a Brother Box vision standpoint, we envision a world where every Black boy has access to a high-quality, holistic, culturally relevant and equitable education,” said Culliver. “We want to continue on this mission of inspiring Black boys to dream big and to be their most authentic selves.”