GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the community came to mourn the death of Patrick Lyoya on Friday, another group gathered to reinforce the potential that young men of color possess.

The first-ever We Matter Now conference was held at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center.

The idea: flip the narrative that labels young men of color as “At Risk,” to “At Potential.”

“It gives me hope. We’re able to make it. Not all of us are criminals. Not all of us are put into the criminal system. That there’s actually kids who are out there trying to make something out of nothing,” East Kentwood High Junior Razah Townsend said.

Townsend was among 60 high school-aged men of color who took part in the conference.

“I just want to be a better African American man for my community,” he said.

Among the mentors taking part in breakout sessions was Dondre’a Brown, founder of Young Money Finance, a nonprofit that promotes better money management through better life decisions. The Columbus, Ohio native, who came to Grand Rapids five years ago, is paying forward what his foster father instilled in him as a teen.

“He spoke affirmations and positivity in my life. He also helped me stay out of communities and neighborhoods that I was challenged with getting away from growing up,” Brown said.

This is about how do we beat the odds? How do we reduce the disparities that we know for young men are very high?” Heart of West Michigan United Way Vice President of Community Impact Shannon Blackmon-Gardner said.

The local United Way branch brought together three minority-run nonprofits, Young Money Finances, Better Wiser Stronger and The Delta Project, to help with discussions and workshops that aim to empower.

To be able to have better access to better resources. To be able to have access to positive role models. We want to change the narrative to what they’re always seeing in the communities,” Blackmon-Gardner said.

The obstacles are difficult, and Lyoya’s death is an example of those obstacles. It is reinforcing the despair felt by many young Black men.

We’re changing that narrative to say ‘No, this is not normal. This is not always going to happen. And here are some things that you can begin to become more knowledgeable about.’” Blackmon-Gardner said. “This is about how do we beat the odds? How do we reduce the disparities that we know for young men are very high?”

Follow-ups are planned to keep reminding these young men of their potential.