Recently Sheldon Barrocks had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Toronto-based motivational speaker and social activist, Jeff Martin, to discuss among other topics his organization Brothas from the 6, police and community relations, and restoring the image of Black fathers.
Sheldon: Tell me a little about yourself?
Jeff: I was born and raised in Toronto, particularly in the Rexdale community. I grew up during a time when my neighbourhood was stricken with gang violence, drugs and guns. Although I was able to avoid getting into trouble myself, I had many friends and acquaintances who lost their lives or went to jail due to the violence. As a young kid, I didn’t see a positive interaction with the police and the community, however I did witness the harassment caused by officers in the area.
Even at that age though, I recognized that in the right circumstance, those officers could really make a positive impact on the youth. That always stayed in the back on my mind. Many years later, I got pulled over by a black officer. I was very surprised to be treated in a respectful manner, which again was rare, but that officer also spoke to me in a street slang that showed me that he could relate to me. This ignited a fire within me, seeing a reflection of myself within the officer. I eventually became an officer within the GTA in 2005 and although I have been doing this full-time job for the last 12 years, I really use it as a vehicle for my bigger purpose, which is to motivate and inspire people who need assistance in finding their life purpose.
Sheldon: What is Brothas from the 6 and what was the passion behind starting it?
Jeff: In January of 2016, I began a social media platform called Brothas from the 6 with two main objectives. First, to recognize the daunting, yet necessary work being done by unsung heroes within Black communities all over the Toronto, but particularly men who stand in perseverance and represent as the phenomenal role models needed for our younger generation. The second objective for this movement was to get those who are disengaged and those waiting for the next great leader to emerge to get involved in something that is greater than any one of us. I truly believe that if each of us did our part, we as a community and a society would be some much further.
Brothas from the 6 is also a non-profit organization. I have gathered six other men who were all born and raised within Toronto, many in tough neighborhoods. All of us have come together to pool our efforts in giving back to the community. Many people living in tough communities can use assistance in one form or another. I really do believe that it is my duty as a human and former resident of a tough community to help as many people as I can to find their purpose.
Sheldon: Last year you put a submission out for fathers and young men to come together dressed up and take a photo. Tell me a little bit more of the purpose and how that all came together.
Jeff: It started when I saw a social media post of about 15 Black males standing together and all dressed up. I thought, how cool would it be if we can do something like that but on a much larger scale? I posted it to the Brothers from the 6 social media page and everyone was excited to do something epic. I made a city call out to all Black men to come together, dressed as well as they could and to take a picture. Our objectives for this picture were to show a different side of Black men that is not often showed through media, to connect the men in our community and to promote a togetherness and brotherhood that sometimes seems to be lacking. We also launched it to promote networking within our own community and to show the younger generation that they have mentors right within their own city.
Many of us were born and still live just an arm’s reach away. And also to show the younger generation that despite sometimes living in tough conditions, you too can stand up and be a leader within your own community, like the men who attended the event. As the ball started to roll, we picked up national coverage from both radio and TV and made the national evening news. We end up getting 50 males from all over the city. They ranged in age from grandfathers in their 80’s to toddlers under four years old.
Two of the most satisfying things coming from that event was, I was able to connect a single and struggling mother to an organization to get her son free dress shoes and also what was amazing was the single mothers who came with their sons, telling me they were so happy that their sons got to see some upstanding men who live within Toronto, an image that their child did not get from their own fathers. Those were the moments that put the entire day over the top.
Sheldon: How has Brothas from the 6 been received by the Black community in Toronto? What level of support do you receive?
Jeff: We have been very well received. There are many who have volunteered to assist in events that we put on and others who have offered other services. We’ve had other community groups who are interested in partnering with us on events as well.
Sheldon: How about other communities in Toronto? Do they feel alienated or are they encouraged to work with you?
Jeff: Brothas from the 6 is not exclusive to helping only the Black community. We know that our toughest neighbourhoods are blended with many cultures. Because I am a Black man, and can speak to my own experiences, I am able to stand as an example to whoever may see me as a role model. Many younger Black males can see themselves in me so they often are the ones who will gravitate to me the most.
Sheldon: What’s your opinion on the current state of Black and police relations in Toronto? Regardless of your answer, what steps need to be taken to improve it?
Jeff: Relations with police have definitely come a long way, however it has so much further to go. I believe the community issues lie in the area of education. Since the 90’s a report came out showing that Black students were failing at a substantial rate. From what I’ve heard, this number has not changed in 2017. We need to have this and other educational issues addressed. We also need to ensure the younger generation is taught about finances and goal-setting. Because some of the other communities have had a head start when it comes to finances and maintaining wealth, the Black community is quite behind in this area of learning and need to have these areas addressed. So although I believe that police relations can be improved, I think that if some of the other issues can dealt with, it can assist in diminishing the violence and start creating jobs and keep money moving within the community.
Sheldon: Do you have a specific success story that you can share from BFT6? Maybe details on how it changed one young person’s life? (if you can give 2-3 examples)
Jeff: While giving away sandwiches to the homeless in downtown Toronto during our “#100Sandwiches” event, we had so many conversions with people who have been down on their luck. Many of the people asked if we were from a church group, because they were use to seeing people giving from churches. We were able to tell them that we were just a bunch of people who cared which was absolutely awesome for me. You don’t need to be from a church group to give back, you really can be just a bunch of people who are about the community
Sometime ago, I met a 19 year-old who disclosed to me that he has been sexually assaulted by his step father for over 15 years. He was broken and suicidal. After hearing his story, I was able to speak life into him and lift him up. After the discussion, this kid was able to say that he was so happy to have met me and really saw life differently.
After the photo shoot mentioned earlier, I met with mothers who told me that their sons did not have any male role models in their life and that they were so happy to know that our group existed. I had one mother who wanted her son to be a part of the event but she didn’t have dress shoes for him. I was able to reach out to a community partner and get her son a free pair of name brand shoes. She was so grateful and appreciative and it was a great feeling to know that we had helped a single mother and a young man.
I spoke at a high school two years ago. I ran into a young man not long ago who told me that he heard me speak then and was still so inspired by the way I spoke. He told me that because of me, he wanted to be a police officer so he can make a difference in the community.
Sheldon: You just recently launched a podcast entitled Motivating from the 6. Tell me a little bit about it and why you feel it’s needed today?
Jeff: Motivating from the 6 the Podcast, really did feel like a natural progression to the path that I’ve been walking. I believe that God has blessed me with a gift and a purpose to motivate others. I have been doing this for many years through speaking and motivational talks throughout the city; through Brothas from the 6 and other charitable avenues and even within my places of employment. When it comes to personal development, it cannot be sustained if it’s just a one-time interaction. If someone hears me speak at a school, within the next few days, any positive influence may be lost and forgotten. Producing the podcast gives people a chance to listen and continue to stay motivated. I also want to reach all four corners of the globe. It sounds exaggerated, but it really isn’t. I believe that with technology today, someone in Pakistan, Australia or Nigeria may run into the podcast and be inspired to push along in finding their purpose.
The intent of the podcast is to bring real life stories, whether it be from my own experiences or life lessons I’ve learned along the way, or even through inspiring interviews. The podcast is for those who find themselves spinning their wheels, being stuck, and having issues in moving forward. It’s also for those who are going through a tough season in their life and they don’t know where else to turn. I want to share hope, inspiration and a life’s purpose through the podcast.
Sheldon: What’s the 10-year vision for Brothas from the 6?
Jeff: Disney has a program called the Disney’s Dreamers academy where they gather 100 students and inspire them to dream as big as they can, helping them get a jump start on their careers. This is where I aim to get Brothas from the 6. There is no better feeling than knowing that a student, who was once in need, is striving because of the lessons you’ve instilled. I have dedicated my life to giving and want to do this on the biggest of scales. I am not looking for the status that Disney’s Dreamers academy brings, I’m just seeking the ability to help many people reach their goals in the greatest way possible. I would love to do my part in healing and helping the community so we as a people can rise up together and be stronger, wiser and more successful as a whole.
Sheldon: How can someone join and be apart of the movement?
Brothas from the 6 is always looking to team up with community partners for events that we may have or are assisting with. Although there are six of us on the committee, we know that we could not strive in any manner without the assistance of community, so we are always looking for people, whether speakers, mentors or people who are just willing to share life stories with others who are willing to learn and listen.