New York-based nonprofit youth development and social justice organization The Brotherhood Sister Sol officially opened their new 20,000 square-foot headquarters in Harlem.
For over 25 years, the Brotherhood Sister Sol (BroSis) has been at the forefront of education and opportunity for the youth of Harlem. After a decade of planning, they welcome community members, supporters, and staff into their new state of the art facility.
“The new building of The Brotherhood Sister Sol has been a journey of love – love for community, for Harlem, and for justice work,” said Khary Lazarre-White, executive director and co-founder of The Brotherhood Sister Sol.
“This project began so many years ago. We began fundraising and dealing with NYC government agencies in 2015. We began demolition of our old building in 2018—and construction of the new in 2019. I challenged our architects and designers to create a building designed for the enlightenment of children. A beacon and temple for our work—an educational, spiritual, contemplative, practical home.”
Since the groundbreaking in 2019, The Brotherhood Sister Sol has looked forward to their grand opening for some time as the pandemic and construction delays postponed the completion. This new building is both a dream fulfilled and much-anticipated success for the nonprofit and the Harlem community. Throughout the pandemic, the organization made a major pivot to providing additional resources to support struggling families along with finalizing the building.
“We have hired more counselors and will deepen our long-standing programming to provide mental health support for our young people and clinical services,” said Lazarre-White.
“The U.S. Surgeon General and others have spoken recently on an urgent call about the mental health crisis facing our young people. A crisis that has worsened due to the Covid pandemic and so many young people being isolated for so long. We made this decision pre-pandemic – but the pandemic only deemed inequality and a lack of access to supportive services. This is a building built based on our four themes of knowledge, community, positivity, and future. The pandemic has displayed, with unnerving focus, the need we all have for community to have a strong and healthy future.”
A project thoughtfully designed and led by Black architects and designers of the Urban Architectural Initiatives, this center will further carry out BroSis’ mission to allow young people to grow, claim their identity and find their voice.
“We had been fortunate enough to work with BroSis on the adaptive reuse of the brownstone that was their home for twenty odd years,” said Anthony Shitemi, principal of Urban Architectural Initiatives.
“We loved their mission, working with children the way they do, and kept in touch over the years, advising them on what would be possible should they decide to purchase the vacant lot next to them. When the time came, we kept the conversation going and this is what they’ve achieved.”
This development is marked as one of few buildings of its kind in NYC, being that it is fully operated for community educational use, no housing or retail or other areas of focus. A unique structure to the Harlem area, the new headquarters features a modern design nestled amongst brownstones and the Frank White Memorial Garden, where youth members act as caretakers for the urban garden.
“The new center speaks the truth of what happens inside of it; that is its real purpose as a community center and not a brownstone or tenement,” said Shitemi.
“It needed to be a place that affirmed the young people; that reflected their cultures and that promoted a feeling of wellness. So right from the outside, the geometry works to move you to lift your head. Inside, the abundance of light in its varied qualities moves to color the soul. Zimbabwe tile and richly textured fabrics used throughout are a direct cultural affirmation. Features of the old brownstone used in the new center such as brick and terra cotta provide instant resonance, something of comfort. In this manner the physical environment supports a positive mindset for is inhabitants.”
Lazarre-White went on to share that the materials sourced for the building reflect a guiding light, the diaspora, and culture.
“Harlem is famous for two colors in architecture—red brick and limestone,” he explained.
“We chose the limestone color for the outside to be in conversation with this history and our block of 143rd street. This also serves as a nod to the sand structures found in East Africa which influenced the Kenyan-born lead architect. There are large windows everywhere, letting the light be abundant, for the young people to see out and the community to feel ownership and see inside. The exterior structure with five separated elements to represent the fingers on a hand, holding in safety and protection what is within and reaching outward to extend to community.”
With a focus on Black and Latinx youth, The Brotherhood Sister Sol offers a space for young people to learn about their history, identity, and community to create the future they want to see. The opening of this capital project provides critical support to the nonprofit known as one of the leading citywide youth development organizations in New York City.
“The work of BroSis is vital to the community and I hope we can continue to expand services to not only support our young people, but also further extend to the community at large,” said Rahsan-Rahsan Lindsay, CEO of MediaCo and Board of Directors co-chair of The Brotherhood Sister Sol.
“It’s clear that many of the services The Brotherhood Sister Sol offers are in great demand across our city and this country. My sincere hope is that what we do continues to be a model for other organizations.”
This new facility opens a new chapter for the organization to expand its efforts to improve the community on a local and national level. Co-Founders Khary Lazarre-White and Jason Warwin are looking forward to bringing new initiatives and their ongoing programs to life in the new facility.
“The Brotherhood Sister Sol works in the intersectional space of educating, organizing and training. We know that this multi-layered work is essential to advance justice, to serve and educate and protect our young people and to build community,” said Lazarre-White.
“We are excited to have more space for our young people – space for education, enrichment, play, counseling, arts, technology, movement and reflection, healthy food, and sports. I am excited that Jason Warwin, the co-founder of BroSis, will have the space he needs to train educators and the field—we have trained over 3,000 educators from across the nation on our model; have programming based on our model as far as Brazil and Bermuda; and he is currently training educators in Boston and Washington D.C. And I am excited that our 40 youth organizers, led by three alumni of BroSis, will have more space to organize for change and that BroSis will expand our organizing reach. With the building will come an expansion of our environmental programming work as we will hire additional staff to expand our environmental organizing. We have also hired a chef and assistant chef to expand our food services and help young people to eat healthy, learn about nutrition and where their food comes from.”
Today, they unveiled the building with a ribbon cutting ceremony with numerous city officials in attendance to show their support. The Brotherhood Sister Sol’s new headquarters is located at 512 W. 143rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10031. To learn more about the Harlem nonprofit, please visit https://brotherhood-sistersol.org/.