When Matt Hanna started teaching in Baltimore over a decade ago, he was unaware of some of the hardships his students faced. He lived in the same urban neighborhood as the kids he taught. On the weekends, he noticed many of the young, Black boys never had much to do. There weren’t many opportunities at their disposal. 

“I felt like there were young men who needed support that I wasn’t able to help with my salary, and I realized that a non-profit was the smartest way to go,” Hanna said. 

What began as a pick-up basketball game in 2009, has evolved into Next One Up. Founded by Hanna, the non-profit aims to transform the lives of Black young men in the city of Baltimore. With recreation and mentorship geared towards empowering Black boys to strive for success, Hanna and his team are reminding everyone that Black boys matter. 

“The true value we’re creating is a sense of community, a sense of family and a place for a young man to be in a city that, in many cases, doesn’t want them as you look at the education system failing, policing failing, and neighborhoods failing,” he said. “I realized we were building a ship for these young men to sail on so they could figure out what’s next.”

Travel is a major component of the Next One Up program. Hanna realized many of the boys in the program had never traveled beyond their Baltimore neighborhoods. Inspired by wanderlust and a desire to expand the horizons of the youth, Hanna made a promise to take the Next One Up boys wherever they wanted to go.

Photo credit: Next One Up

From Baltimore To Aspen

Every year, Hanna ensures the Next One Up young men are able to see the world beyond Baltimore. The boys and alumni members have traveled to places, like Nantucket, Utah and Pennsylvania. Hanna didn’t get his passport and travel seriously until he was an adult. He wanted the kids in the program to see the world sooner than he did. 

“There’s young men who oftentimes won’t even leave their neighborhoods for the majority of their upbringing,” he said. “Depending on what their socioeconomic situation is, their experience is very much captured by one geographic area.”

Recently, Next One Up members traveled to Aspen. They stayed in a mansion in the mountains doing skillbuilding activities and receiving vital mentorship from program leadership. Hanna noticed a significant difference in the behavior of program participants after traveling. 

“Their mental health and attitude shifts so much when they realize that the entire world is not what they see everyday,” he said.

Although the group trips involved plenty of fun, it is important to Hanna that the young men acquire beneficial lifestyles while traveling. For some, Next One Up trips are their first time flying on a plane and navigating an airport. Hanna believes these are the skills they need as they move into adulthood.

“These are things when they get older when they’re going on job interviews or taking their family on vacation, they need that kind of muscle to remember ‘Hey guys make sure we get there an hour early,’ even though it seems like simple steps,” he said.

Brotherhood Rooted In Accountability

When they’re not traveling, program members have access to a recreation center. The center has a four hour after school program. The boys are required to be on time and turn in their cell phones before engaging in group activities to keep them off Baltimore’s streets. They have dinner and exercise together each night before going home. The center also offers free haircuts from the in-house barber, who is also an alumni of the program. 

“The idea is that we’re building these young men with so many tools in their tool belt – the ability to travel and see what the world looks like, but also becoming better students at home,” he said.

Unmoved by stereotypes and political correctness, Hanna stands firm in his pursuit to change the lives of young men. Long term, his vision extends beyond Baltimore.