Al-Tariq Best, draped in humility (Newark, New Jersey currently ranks #16 on the Business Insider as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., with 50.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.)
It was during a neighborhood brawl between his 14-year-old son, and a group of rivalry peers, that Jersey native, Al-Tariq Best, was faced with an important task—either talk about what needed to change in the community, or be the transformation that people needed to see…
His son accepted accountability for his involvement, but he wanted Best to take ownership as well. So he asked, “What are you going to do about it?”
“It was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back, and when he put that on me,” said Best. “I felt like he was calling me a hypocrite. In other words, he was saying, “Dad, you talk about the problems but you aren’t doing anything about it. You’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem...” He was absolutely right. So, I took everything from the music business and turned it into a nonprofit. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just knew that I wanted to serve.
Earlier in his career, Best was a songwriter and hip hop artist. He used those components to create the FP Youth OutCry [Future Potential That You Transform] foundation in 2006. The foundation uses education, empowerment and music.
The organization is celebrating it’s 10-Year Anniversary on June 23, 2016 as well as the Grand Opening of its sister company called H.U.B.B [Help Us Become Better]. Best said that a lot of people supported him even when he didn’t have adequate funding, so he wants to award the families as well as the people that helped them survive through the years. He acknowledges that they didn’t do it by themselves.
What happened with your son after he witnessed you making those positive changes?
It was great because he started teaching basketball and stuff in his own community (he lived with his mom in another part of Jersey). He didn’t realize that it was that situation that changed my world until 3 years later when I won my first award, and I brought him on stage with me—I told the story. He was looking at me in disbelief. He didn’t realize the impact he made on me. He actually put a charge on my life to do more for my community.
Was it difficult to start the FP YouthOutCry?
It was difficult in a sense that I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew that I wanted to serve. Being in Newark, it’s really political. You gotta know somebody, and if you don’t know somebody, you gotta get in with somebody. It became difficult for me because I knew that I didn’t want to be in the political arena. So, I was strictly community, and I didn’t have those people that came on-board and wanted to take control of what we were doing because they were running for some type of political position. So, I stayed away from them. We built it on our own, with our own money and then got private foundations to come in and help us. We did it in a way that it needed. I wish someone would’ve done it this way when I was growing up.
When did H.U.B.B become part of the nonprofit?
The H.U.B.B is actually a community empowerment center. About 3 years ago, I started building out this place. We were afforded a dilapidated space. It was 9000 square feet. So, we turned that 9000 square feet into goodness. We broke it up into three philosophies of education, entertainment and empowerment. I knew, because music saved my life, if nothing else, I could offer what I learned from the music business since I know that’s such an attraction in our Urban communities. So, I utilized that and the arts. I used it as art-therapy by bringing them to us and captivating them through the arts. Then, once we had them, we were able to educate them. Now, as you educate them well enough, they become empowered to do more for themselves and others. It’s a facility that’s strictly made, so that when we bring them in, we keep them, and they walk away changed.
You said that you use entertainment. But, how do they understand that this organization is not just for fun and it helps to improve their life?
Well, I’ll say it like this: For our after-school program, the entertainment is the last part. So, they have to go through the education part, which is education assistance. Then we go through the empowerment part, where each day we do financial literacy, health and wellness, grooming themselves ethnicity, career readiness and maximizing their education. Then, after they get through their education, and life skills with the education and empowerment, they get to have fun with the Musical Monday, Taste the Art Tuesday, Wishful Wednesday, Teach Me Thursday, and Fun & Fit Friday.
How did you remain focused and determined throughout the whole journey?
Seeing the change and knowing that we were making a difference. Each child is different, but once you see them understanding…
One of my things was to make them understand that their situations didn’t have to dictate their destinations, and once I seen that it was working with them, I fell in love with it. I realized that music wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. This, is what I was supposed to be doing cause it came so easily.
Do you compare your methods with other agencies to see if what you’re doing is effective?
Yes, we have measurements and pre-composed test to make sure that when they come in this way, and we know that they don’t know certain things, the children walk away and their grades are better. They’re interacting, they’re working as teams right now. My music program which is called “Rhymes for Reasons” became a program where we had the gang members from all over, come together and get in our songs—they created songs together. Now, this was odd for them, but they did it, and they did videos and everything, by coming together. Music was the barrier that brought everyone together. We just used that and used the rest of the arts to do the same thing.
Do you get assistance from city leaders?
We’re coming to a place now, that people are finally taking a look at us, and they’re saying “Hey, how did you guys survive those 10-years?” For example, Mayor Sharp James, was the mayor for twenty-plus-years. When I first started the organization, he was in office. He comes around frequently and now, he’s like a mentor.
Were you able to get employees?
They are all volunteers, with myself included. We just dedicate the time. What I’ve realized is that the people in your life are reasons and seasons. You know? I don’t try to keep people past their reason or their season. Volunteers doesn’t wear off. If you’re here and you’re ready to work, and whatever floats your boat, “Let’s go! Let’s rock!” But when that time comes, I understand that I need to find more volunteers.
What’s one of your most humbling and sobering experiences since you began the organization?
Really, just seeing the change… 2 years ago, the Newark Housing Authority closed one of our programs down at the facility where we were at. They closed the facility down because some political people wanted to take the facility and do other things with it. Some of our youth went back out into the street, and one of them was killed. So, of course, I went at Housing Authority Hard to let us be back in the program and restart the program to save lives. So, they allowed us to start the program back up. They didn’t give us money for it, but we have the program now. We are on our fifth graduating class. I’m happy that we are able to do it now. We have taken youth as young as 8 years old.
How does it make you feel to know that others in the community are looking up to you?
It makes me feel good and it makes me feel like I’m doing God’s work. I feel like this is my walk in life and I’m not running from it anymore. I know I understand, and I know God understands. So, that’s what gives me the strength… My wife understands, she’s been my whole support system.
Do you face resistance from parents?
Of course, we run into a lot of parents that need to be reprogrammed like the youth because they feel like their situation is it. In a lot of the cases, I have to have these strong conversations and interventions to let them know that there’s a world outside of the 4 walls that you think is your world, and we started taking them and giving them these different experiences. One of these things is creating as many positive experiences as possible because what you do then is build a pocket of memories, so when the youth meet these crossroads of life, you can’t be naïve in understanding that they are gonna reach these crossroads—so when they get to these crossroads, they have enough within them to make these positive decisions versus the negatives.
Sure, we run into those situations with the parents. We’re telling them one thing and the parents are telling them something else. It’s a fight every day to keep giving them the goodness, hugging on them, and loving on them, and showing them that we care. I believe that persistence meets resistance every single day.
Do you partner with other organizations?
I really deal with the “Grass Roots Organization” because they get it. The North Anti-Violence Coalition and Partnership for Action. These are organizations that don’t just talk about it, they get out here and do it, whether the money is there or not. So, those are the organizations that I deal with. People know that I don’t deal with politics. I don’t get in bed with everybody.
When did you know that the organization was something that you couldn’t tackle on your own?
Well, I found out that I wasn’t superman about 5 years ago. Up-until-then, I thought I could do it all. When the resources ran out, the bank accounts got depleted. We had a 501c3 but I wasn’t utilizing it. That’s the other great thing about our story. We got our 501c3 in 2009, but the government backdated it to 2006 because we were doing the work. Other people told us that they don’t do that. They don’t backdate it that far, but we were doing the work. I didn’t utilize it because I didn’t want someone to tell me how it should go, when I knew what I needed when I grew up. So, I used my own money to do it, and the money ran out. We dedicated everything to doing this. The money wasn’t there and we were dealing with other life problems, but we didn’t give up, we just kept pushing, and now we’re celebrating 10-years.
Is this program just for Blacks, or does it offer diversity for female and males--after all, compassion knows no boundaries...
Of course, it’s for anyone that needs our services. We don’t turn anyone away. We’re here for the under-served people.
You said that you comfront poverty, where do Blacks stand in your area economically?
Oh, at the lowest of the totem pole. We’re fighting very hard every day, and most of the people that think they are going to win, they are looking at the people around them. In their mind and concept, it’s winning because they have money from drug sells, sneakers, jewelry and stuff. That’s winning to them. That’s why I said earlier, “We have to reprogram them.” No, there is a whole other world outside of here. I think that’s what did it for me too because I thought during that time, the material stuff was it. I saw my friends selling drugs and stuff, they were eating better than me, and we were starving. You know, I was a little child of 3 boys… We were always moving, but my mom didn’t let us be homeless. She made us understand that there’s so much more in life that we can do, to turn nothing into something. I grew up with that mindset of perceive it, believe it, and you can achieve it. So, that’s what I want to send to other people.
What more can we expect from you in the next 5 or 10 years?
I plan to take the H.U.B.B to different cities and establish it. Right now, I have 5 different states that want to bring the H.U.B.B to their states. So, I think we are on the right path with the YMCA and the Young Boys & Girls club, used to do, but didn’t stay relative.
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