Kenneth Bourne’s pursuit of peace and joy for Black boys and men began when he was a kid growing up in Southwest Philadelphia.
“I was never a person that could withstand any kind of mistreatment toward a human being around me at all,” he says.
As a teenager, he took the long way to and from school to avoid fights. In class, he battled to succeed in an institution wrought with instability. At university he faced overt racism. He also learned that police would stop and question him, presumably, he says, because he is Black.
“Personally, I find just being Black in America is beyond stressful,” he says. “I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired.” That exhaustion led to frustration and anger, which brought Bourne to mindfulness. He says deep breathing and meditation helps him get out of a stuck mindset and “comprehend the goal, the purpose, or the bigger picture of life.”
After graduating from Rutgers with a master’s degree in social work, he committed to helping others not have to fight so hard, to helping them heal and know their worth.
“To be an educated Black man in this country is to always be angry, in a sense,” he says, echoing James Baldwin’s famous words from over 60 years ago. “And the more I learned, the more I realized that the systems that say they are there to help also further the oppression, they perpetuate the violence.”
The biggest joy for me, and hope, came through once I really was digging into mindfulness with other people and helping them realize that they can find peace within themselves.
“I realized that Black boys and Black men, specifically, we go through a lot of complex trauma that intersects a lot of systems, but there hasn’t been a space or a system that I ever felt was safe enough and actually helped with the complex trauma that I was dealing with. So I said, ‘I’m going to do that.’”
In 2019, he founded Bourne ANEW to bring resilience and healing talks and workshops to Black men and boys to help them overcome barriers to higher education. One of his jobs with Bourne ANEW took him back to his old school in Southwest Philadelphia.
“The biggest joy for me, and hope, came through once I really was digging into mindfulness with other people and helping them realize that they can find peace within themselves— because the world is crazy and is going to continue to be crazy, but you need some sort of peace and calm and stillness within your mind and in your body and in your heart to reduce the stress so that you can exist in a way that you want to. And that has been the greatest joy.”