It started in response to some photographs posted on Facebook.
In 2007, several students at Ursinus College, a 40-minute drive from Temple, posted racially insensitive photographs on the website.
Alex Peay, a sophomore at Ursinus at the time, responded to the photos by creating an on-campus group that aimed to empower African-American males who have faced discrimination, according to the nonprofit’s website.
“It hit the college campus pretty heavily,” Peay said. “A lot of the black girls started protesting about it and were asking, ‘How come the black guys aren’t doing anything?’ So I was like, all right, let me start a little group.”
Peay, 26, is the founder and president of Rising Sons, a nonprofit organization that he moved to Philadelphia since graduating from Ursinus in 2009 with a degree in political science. Today, the group meets on Drexel’s campus.
Now with 25 members, Rising Sons’ mission is threefold: to help members with job placement, guide them toward higher education enrollment and assist members in launching their own businesses.
Although Peay was persuaded to create Rising Sons while at Ursinus, he sees how impactful his role as president can be.
“I am very optimistic,” Peay said with a laugh, implying that his members always get a full dosage of his personality. “As a leader, you’ve got to be optimistic because you’ve got to keep everybody else motivated – that, and having that vision of seeing what it is you want to see done.”
Rising Sons holds a “Reason for the Season” event every winter to provide local needy families with donated toys and clothing. It was held in the Woodstock Family Center in North Philadelphia last December. Aside from donation events, the nonprofit also hosts workshops for men and women.
Although “Reason for the Season” benefits children who may not receive any other presents during the holidays, Peay said Rising Sons doesn’t focus solely on Philadelphia’s younger generation.
“A lot of nonprofits focus on youth, which is not a problem,” Peay said. “But youth are influenced by who they see who are 18 to 30.”
Peay said this difference in member demographic is what allows Rising Sons to make a greater impact.
“We said, ‘Instead of just plugging at the youth, let’s work with the middleman,’” Peay said. “If you influence them, the kids are going to be turning around, like, ‘I want to do that.’”
This results in Peay working with members who are older than him. He said this age difference allows for an exchange in wisdom and experience.
“We have those with GEDs, some with high school diplomas, a number with college degrees and some with two-year college degrees,” Peay said. “It’s a great dynamic of diversity there.”
It’s this diversity that fuels Rising Sons’ formation as a team, Peay said. But, regardless of the age difference, he said he still has to stand his ground as a leader.
“I have people who are 30 on my team,” Peay said. “I’m still telling them, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ At the same time, they’re teaching me stuff, too.”
Khalil Smith, a member of Rising Sons, said he was inspired to join the organization after believing Peay showed a genuine interest in Smith’s career aspirations. Peay and Smith were working together at another nonprofit when they met.
“I was a local artist doing music, producing events on a very small scale,” Smith said. “[Peay] really challenged me by asking me what I wanted to do. He was actually interested in my answer.”
Since then, Peay and Smith have worked together to form “Rising Sons: This is Hip-Hop” to support young adults by inspiring them through hip hop. RSTIHH allows participants to cope with city violence by creating uplifting music.
As Rising Sons expanded within Philadelphia, women saw the need for an equivalent organization. The birth of Rising Queens, Rising Sons’ sister organization, was fueled from this desire. Rising Queens was started by Peay in collaboration with women who were involved with local nonprofit organizations.
Although Rising Sons has made an impact in Philadelphia, Peay said he believes society still has room for improvement in terms of cultural sensitivity and awareness.
“I think we have to have more conversations with different races,” Peay said. “Especially people our age.”
Open and honest dialogue is the first step in the process toward social awareness of discriminative and racial actions, like the occurrence at Ursinus six years ago.
“If you ever look at change in society, it’s always been young people that have brought change,” Peay said. “It’s going to take us to really come together to break these barriers and have those tough conversations.”
Kerri Ann Raimo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.