The Road Ahead: A Message by All Stars CEO Gabrielle Kurlander

Published by Dan Kelly

Dear Friends,

Over the last thirty years, I have had the privilege of working with and learning from many powerful African American leaders. The list is long. It includes Gloria Strickland, Dr. Jessie Fields, Nathaniel Christian, Alvaader Frazier and Woodie King, Jr. in New York, Antoine Joyce in Dallas, Shadae McDaniel and Robert Ross in New Jersey, and David Cherry in Chicago. Of course, I would not be in my position as CEO of the All Stars Project without the vision and friendship of our co-founder, Dr. Lenora Fulani, who drew me close to her and to her relentless commitment to ending poverty and achieving social justice. Each of these people has shared with me both the pain and the incredible strength and creativity of the communities from which they come. Together we have insisted that the All Stars Project be an evolving tool for social progress. In this overdue moment of social protest and unfiltered rage over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, I am grateful that the All Stars Project has so much to give to make things right.

As some of you know, either because you were there or because you have learned the history, the All Stars Project was shaped on the frontlines of responding to racial injustice and inequality. Yusuf Hawkins’ death at the hands of a gang of racist youth in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1989 sparked a protest movement that the All Stars nurtured and was nurtured by. As a young community organizer, I participated in dozens of the multiracial marches protesting Yusuf’s murder, which were led by Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Fulani, and All Stars’ co-founder Dr. Fred Newman. Rev. Sharpton would go on to become the first executive producer of our All Stars Talent Show Network as a way of investing in the creativity and hope of underserved African American youth.

In 2006, another African American man, Sean Bell, was killed in New York City while celebrating at his bachelor party; he was the victim of a shooting by undercover police. This led to massive protests and an expanded outcry against police abuse. In this context, we not only marched. We turned to the creation of a new kind of police-community relations program, Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids, which was pioneered by Dr. Fulani and a network of mainly Black police officers who felt that the tension on the streets needed to be addressed with a different approach. Significant reforms of policing and police training are now front and center on the national agenda, a critical shift that is desperately needed. I believe the expansion of Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids to multiple cities has contributed to calling this question.

Today, it is imperative that we take all that we know, all that we have learned, and all that we have built and expand its influence and impact. We see the pain and anger of those on our streets; we know this rage is real and that it is more than justified, even as we call for peaceful protest. We also know that our demand for justice and against racism must be accompanied by the demand for growth, development, learning, and leading. At All Stars, we get up every day and work on all those things.

Black Lives Matter. We believe deeply in this. And to fully realize this principle, our society needs to give everyone the opportunity to live safely, and to have a productive and fulfilled life. Our poorest citizens, our communities of color, must be able to have and to benefit from the living standards that come from being in America. Those who have privileges must be given a way to share them with those who do not. This is a core value of the All Stars Project.

We are not alone in fighting for these changes. But All Stars’ unique contribution is that we have added development as a critical component of fighting poverty and moving our country ahead: development of young people and their families AND development of the affluent among us. Everyone can be part of the solution.

The discovery of development, meaning the discovery that human beings can create environments and activities in which individuals and communities can grow to become more than who they are, is central to what we do at the All Stars. This activity gives everyone involved a deeper stake in society, which means that we can shape and reshape the society in which we live. Clearly, a reshaping is on the agenda for our country.

The months and years ahead will be difficult, of that there is no doubt. We are still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and are just beginning to absorb the impact of a highly destabilized economy. All of this will challenge us in new and visceral ways. I want you to know that I am up for this challenge. Our leadership team is up for this challenge. Our staff, young people, board members, philanthropists, activists, artists, and volunteers—the entire All Stars community—are up for this challenge. And I want every one of you to find solace and inspiration and to feel the demand to grow from the strength of All Stars.

Stay safe, stay strong, and stay in touch.

Gabrielle Kurlander