Actor and author Hill Harper

Actor and author Hill Harper’s initiative to help young African Americans and Latinos succeed is bringing his Los Angeles-based Manifest Your Destiny Foundation to D.C. “No matter how well I may be doing in Hollywood, if the young brother or sister in D.C. or Baltimore are not doing well, then I’m not doing very well, because we’re all interconnected,” he said during a June 14 press conference.

At the press conference, to announce the foundation’s fundraiser event, Harper mentioned a recent report that linked incarceration rates with dropout rates among young African American men in the District. “The dropout rate of African American males in the D.C. [and] Baltimore school systems is somewhere between 70 and 75 percent, which is atrocious, and it’s an embarrassment, and I literally can’t look in the mirror at myself, in good conscience, knowing that’s happening,” he said. “If you’re an African-American or Latino male or female in this country, there is almost an 8 percent chance you will wind up incarcerated at some point in your life.”

Harper said he created the foundation and the associated summer academy because he wanted to do something about those statistics. “The need is so extreme here in D.C.,” he said. “I have a lot of great relationships here. I’ve met so many young people who could really benefit from it in this area, so I really wanted to bring [the program] here.”

Manifest Your Destiny provides underserved youth a path to empowerment and educational excellence through mentoring, academic enrichment programs, college access skills, and the facilitation of psychosocial and physical development strategies.

Harper said he wants D.C. to be the second city where the program is located, but then he wants to expand the foundation throughout the country. “Six years in we have a template and a blueprint for success. We now feel really comfortable replicating in other cities,” he said.

The Manifest Your Destiny Dancing with the Stars Fundraiser Sept. 4 at the Howard Theatre will kick-off the District foundation initiative. “It feels like the old fundraising model for foundations is old and tired,” Harper told the AFRO. “Not everything has to be ‘I’m going to beat you over the head with a message and make you feel guilty.’ Let’s enjoy it.”

The fundraiser will be similar to the popular Dancing with the Stars television show, featuring a group of well-known trailblazers from the metropolitan area to raise money for the foundation, while competing for their role as the winner of the competition. To-date, contestants include Ayofemi Kirby, April Bell, Jenna Carter, Gizelle Bryant, Gregory Shepherd, Raheem Devaughn, Roland Martin, and M. Mitchell, the chef for the fundraiser. Harper said he wants to have 10 teams competing, so there are two spots left.

Much like the popular T.V. show, the contestants will pair up with professional dancers from the Dance Institute of Washington in Northwest D.C. At the conclusion of the competition, the night will continue with dancing for the audience. “We’re going to have a really great event with great food, great drinks, and then great dancing that you actually watch but then also you’ll get to dance, and there is going to be some special surprise performances as well,” Harper said.

For more information about the foundation visit www.mydf.org.