The YMCA of Rock River Valley sent representatives to Washington, D.C. for a conference focused on creating access and opportunity for boys and young men of color, helping them reach their full potential.

Victor Omari is a senior at Guilford High School who works at the Y.

“I want to be able to make a difference in the world,” said Omari. “My mom always tells me that I can be something big and I believe her.”

Omari was part of the group that traveled to the Boys and Young Men of Color conference with people from YMCAs across the country.

“I got to connect with a lot of people just by going up to them, and I’m not usually the type of person to go up to people,” said Omari. “I was able to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with doing before. The environment at the conference makes you feel comfortable because they’re all there to uplift you.”

The conference was focused on investing in youth, especially young men of color, and how to develop and grow the next generation.

“One of the biggest things for me was to see other young people, other young men of color interested and being engaged,” said Tamir Bell, Board Member at the YMCA of Rock River Valley. “One of the things that I’m committed to do in my own life is reach to the next person and help them as long as they’re curious.”

Vice President Kamala Harris even stopped by to share remarks.

“It’s like the whole energy shifted in the room,” said Omari. “I couldn’t really remember much of what she said because I was in shock.”

The group returned to Rockford with information that they can apply to their community.

“We are committed to servicing the population of young men that are oftentimes left out,” said Bell. “And so being able to expose young people to something like Washington, D.C., being able to come together with other young people and learn about something that can really change the trajectory of our community. That’s investing in our young people.”

Omari says it’s the people at the Y who encourage him and make him believe in himself.

“I see other people changing through these programs for the better,” said Omari. “And it’s making me realize that I can also do that.”

The Y offers different resources for mentorship and preparation for life after high school. More information on how to get involved with these programs can be found at