Columbus non-profit helping, mentoring ‘at-risk youth’

“I understand how hard it is to be placed in the system and then be an African American male in this country and then try to bounce back from that.”
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 9:28 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A Columbus nonprofit is aiming to make sure at-risk youth don’t end up dead from senseless violence or in jail. The man behind the program says he’s no stranger to life in the streets and hopes to make a difference in the lives of kids he comes across.

Life isn’t always about the hand you’re dealt but more so how you play it. Keith Bridges is not a stranger to adversity. Cards stacked against him at a young age after a bump in the road led him to a prison sentence. But now he now spends his days planting seeds in the lives of at-risk kids through his mentorship program called “Building Better Bridges”.

“It’s a lot of absent fathers in the household so a lot of our kids have homes where they’re not growing up with positive male role models in their households. I wanted to build a program that embodies that,” said Bridges. “I understand how hard it is to be placed in the system and then be an African American male in this country and then try to bounce back from that. Seeing them succeed and be successful, not being in the penitentiary or being killed is what I correlate with our success.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. It’s a quote Keith Bridges keeps on his desk in his classroom at Marshall Success Center, and visible to all who walk through his doors at the school for children with disciplinary issues. Bridges tries to live by it.

Bridges said he created the program in 2017. It’s a mentorship program he started for at-risk youth to do things like get their GED, get jobs, or teach literacy. The biggest thing he told News Leader 9 is it helps keep them away from the streets and teaches them to be self sufficient. According to Mickell Haynes, Building Better Bridges even helped him start his own lawn care and pressure washing business.

“Building Better Bridges helped me out by giving me an alternate route in life. It give me a positive route. Growing up it’s either go to the military go to college and coming out it kind of gave me like the big brother, take me under your wing and show me these other ways you can succeed in life. So I started off, but two years ago I came up with my own business landscaping.,” said Haynes. “We’re big on agriculture and love using your natural resources what you got around and ever since then, taking off with it and even with finances taught me how to reinvest in yourself and save money you know, and just all around made me a better man and better person. I really believe this program had a huge impact on my life, it gave me a different set of hope.”

Keith Bridges is no stranger to losing hope. Once a top athlete in the Fountain City, his life was derailed at 16 when he caught a felony charge that took away his dreams of being a college athlete just months before graduating high school.

“I understand what incarceration feels like. I understand what a young father feels like in high school. I understand what being involved in neighborhood beefs and all that feels like but at the same token I don’t want that to dictate who you’re going to be,” said Bridges. “I understand how hard it is to be placed in the system and then be an African American male in this country and then try to bounce back from that.”

These days Bridges said he surrounds himself with other people with the same goals, people like Michael Yisreal the owner of ‘Yahweh Spirituel Seeds’. He’s helping with the latest project Building Better Bridges is taking on - building a garden for the kids at Rothschild Leadership Academy.

“They’ll be able to see how they can make money off of plants. Money does grow on trees, you know what I’m saying. They grow on trees. They say how? Because every time you get a peach tree, you collect the peaches or you collect the fruit off the tree. People buy at the grocery stores - buy it in bulk. And then they pay you to eat. That’s money. Everything starts with agriculture,” said Yisreal.

For more information on Building Better Bridges, or how you can get involved, click here.

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