Mentoring program supports minority youth who broke the law

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former resident at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center bared his soul because a stranger was willing to listen.

“I used to really say things like, ‘I don’t have anything to live for, F my life,’” Brandon Wallace said.

Wallace opened up to Tahj Gillespie about his past inside the detention center. It was the place where he learned to make better choices.

“I got to commend you,” Gillsepie said to Wallace. “I like listening to you. I’m getting a lot of information from you.”

Wallace shared his story with the help of the Delta Project, a grassroots program that mentors and encourages men of color to speak their truth.

“If I didn’t grow up and I was still the same way, I would either be dead or in prison,” Damarion Brewster, a member of the Delta Project, said.

Brewster recently connected with the Delta Project upon being released from the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center in January. He said he first went into the system for breaking and entering at 14 years old.

“I had a problem controlling my anger that I didn’t know about,” Brewster said.

Refusing to no longer act on emotion, Brewster, now 18 years old, changed his ways. He said he credits his growth, in part, to the Delta Project.

An undated courtesy photo of young people involved in the Delta Project.

“We want kids to know that there are people out there that care about them,” Cole Williams, founder of the Delta Project, said.

That care comes in the form of emotional support, job opportunities, housing resources and a declaration that minorities are more than the crime that lands them behind bars.

“They’re just kids,” said Eric Johnson, co-founder of the Delta Project. “They just need a chance.”

Johnson owns and operates Gorilla, a Grand Rapids-based production company. He uses his resources and equipment to help grow the Delta Project.

Joel Van Kuiken, co-founder of the Delta Project and adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University, does the same for his mentees.

“I want them to understand that they can become what they’re meant to become,” Van Kuiken said.

For the Delta Project, healing starts with acknowledging trauma, and it continues by being vulnerable with others.

“It’s something bigger than all of this, and I know,” Wallace said.