Words and Photos by Andrea Westerlund
After losing his father at 15, Shawn “Gee” Goburn searched for a way to help young Black men not only survive in this world that seems to be working against them, but thrive. Alive + Well is the formalization of that mission. Starting at 14, the organization supports young Black men through coaching, education, and mentoring.
“I have a young daughter,” explains Shawn. “If she does everything she should, she’ll go to college. She’ll make it out. Those stats change dramatically for young Black men.”
Dramatically may be an understatement. Although only 15% of the U.S. population under 18 years old is Black, approximately 35% of those youths are arrested. What’s more, over 2,000 Black men were incarcerated in 2018 versus 88 Black women.
Why are young Black men so much more likely to be arrested than their female counterparts? Shawn explains his own upbringing and the ease at which young men can get involved in criminal activity:
“Losing my father at 15 was a life-changing moment in my existence. I went from having security and the guidance of a man in my life to total freedom. I was becoming a man myself. Luckily, I wasn’t a street kid. I had other things on my mind. I was trying to play basketball and do different things.”
The focus on sports was what kept Shawn from following in the footsteps of so many of his peers. Support from teammates and coaches kept him from exploring other options that might have harmed him or led him down a potentially dangerous path. This team mentality is what inspired Alive + Well.
“There are great programs dedicated to our young men, but this one is unique,” he explains. “Because in order for us to grow, we need to become mindful of who we are, where we want to go, our finances, and what we need to do. Everything in this program is designed to help a young Black man survive.”
The 120-week program focuses on topics that are severely lacking in school, like personal finance and career planning. The approach is holistic. Whether a student wants to go to college, learn a trade, or start a business, Alive + Well ensures that young Black men know all the options available to them and how to achieve their goals, whatever they are.
Currently, Shawn collaborates with schools to educate any interested students on these topics. The goal, however, is to create a standalone space where these boys can learn to thrive outside of the context of school.
“At the end of the day,” Shawn explains, “I just want to see our community change, and I think change starts in a very tough place. Not many people want the job that it takes to really change minds and lives. But I was blessed with mentors and individuals who put me on the path to success. To see young people who don’t have that is tough, and Alive + Well looks to be that for them.
To support Alive + Well go to AliveandWellNY.com.