Brandon Okpolabi’s mission to reach out to underserved youth comes from a place close to his heart. The 36-year-old Miami resident was one of those kids. Born and raised in the rough and tumble Seventh Ward in New Orleans, Brandon did well in school but was full of angry energy that translated into behavior problems. He was so disruptive in school that he was kicked out of the second grade. When he was transferred to an art focused school in the French Quarter his energy was channeled into making art, t-shirt designs and eventually playing sports. Brandon knows from experience that if a child is afforded an opportunity, he or she can achieve anything. He founded Dibia DREAM in 2014 a non-profit dedicated to bringing mentorship and role modeling opportunities to young people of color and so far has helped more than 2,000 youth achieve through STEM education, scholarships, six-week STEM camp and after school programming. By partnering with other organizations, including BMe, an organization of African-American male community leaders and education focused non-profits, such as HoneyShine Inc. and Miami Dade College, Brandon has leveraged professional relationships with scholars and researchers to provide innovative projects and workshops for at risk students in Miami and his hometown of New Orleans.
Brandon is committed to making a difference in his community and he is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree. Points of Light spoke with him about his commitment to service.
What inspires you to volunteer?
When we provide STEM education and programming to kids who would not otherwise experience it – and they open up to possibilities, that inspires me. We might put kids in lab coats and get them dissecting in a lab – and you’ll hear somebody say they might want to be a doctor, or that they love science – that’s inspiring. After school programming from 3-6 fills up prime time for kids to get into trouble. That translates directly to affecting youth gun violence. It’s all about education and opportunity.
Describe your volunteer role with Dibia DREAM.
As founder and director of operations, I handle anything related to grants, development, accounting. As we grow, we outsource, but I oversee day to day. I’m a big visionary – my staff calls me the dream architect.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
We recently partnered with the Miami Marlins and AutoNation to give a Miami single mother with three sons a 2019 Honda Odyssey, fully paid off, including taxes and title. That’s going to be a game changer for this family. Also, our after-school program in New Orleans provides kids with a full bag of food on Thursday – because a lot of kids don’t eat over the weekend. That’s rewarding.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned that I don’t know everything – even though sometimes I think I do! I was raised, hard, non-empathetic, and by working in this community and with my wonderful staff, I’ve learned to be more understanding to the needs of other people. And I’ve learned that if we provide opportunities, a large percentage of the time these kids are going to be successful.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
We recently partnered with ATT to provide more STEM Saturdays in Miami. We’re excited to work with the Marlins and AutoNation. And our ongoing relationship with William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust is helping us to really grow in Miami. In New Orleans we partner with the Hyatt Regency to provide food for the kids on the weekend.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
We can’t forget where we came from. Whatever ladder we manage to climb, we have to put that ladder back so somebody else can climb too. It’s also important to use our own experience to help others not go through the same struggles we did.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
With perseverance, hard work, dedication and strong faith in God you can do anything. Never let someone tell you that you can’t do something!
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Brandon? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities.
Post written by Beth D’Addono