How The Inner Hero Organization Started
Born in Liberia to a single mother during the country’s first civil war, Ambrose R. Russell’s life is no stranger to struggle and conflict. As the Founder and Executive Director of Inner Hero, an organization dedicated to mentoring young men and women in the Twin Cities, Russell saw his life circumstances and achievements as testimony to hard work and dedication.
Giving birth to her son at a young age, Russell’s mother was unable to support him, compelling his grandparents to raise him. Not long after, the two passed away, Russell left to seek refuge in Ghana from the ongoing war where he was adopted by a Christian family.
In 2004 he arrived in the United States and completed his studies in engineering at Hennepin Technical College. Although Russell found work in his field, he did not feel it was the work he had been meant for.
Russell credits his wife Elshaddai for being the inspiration behind his organization. “I always say she’s a true inner hero. Had it not been for her, I would not have discovered my true calling,” Russell said. When meeting Russell, Elshaddai was a mother of five boys whose father passed away from gun violence in 1997. She worked four jobs to provide for her sons. Seeing that her sons needed a father figure and guidance, Russell stepped in, helping Elishaddai raise her boys and eventually fathering a boy and a girl with her. Russell’s first five sons have all graduated high school with two college graduates and one having served in the Navy.
Taking her as his inspiration, Russell worked towards establishing an organization that would work to bring that potential out of others. “When destiny crossed purpose, dreams become a reality,” Russell said. This would be the beginning of what would become the start of Inner Hero.
Inner hero, as Russell describes it, is the idea in which each individual has the innate ability to inspire themselves, and those around them, to reach their potential. Russell began his mentoring program with his sons, soon after he began mentoring their friends and classmates.
He recalls the story of Jakai Self, a young man he led out of a gang he found himself in. Russell took it upon himself to help Self get home from work at midnight while Self biked there from school. Russell then helped him open a bank account, get a social security card, and his driver’s permit, some of the basic items Russell helps participants of Inner Hero attain when they first join. After six months of driving Self home from his late shift at Burger King, Self bought his first car. Now a father, Self works at a landscaping company job that he attained through Russell.
Russell has dozens of stories about young men and women his organization has been able to help over the years. He’s now able to mentor youth who may be dealing with issues at schools, juvenile detention centers, and the county home school. Inner Hero has been operating since 2011 and has built a focus around creating a sense of community and leadership for its participants through engagement with public servants. Russell has developed relationships with 17 police departments in Minnesota and has recently partnered with the U.S. Army and Minneapolis Fire Department to engage with youth from the Twin Cities.
He hopes to one day see the youth he mentors take positions within law enforcement and other areas of public service, taking ownership of their community. “If you want to see your community protected, you have to become the protector too. The police officers, firemen, army members we see today will retire,” Russell said. “So what happens when they retire and we still need to be protected?”
Seeing the division between law enforcement and the community, Russell took to the streets one day and introduced himself to each officer he came across. He soon connected with the Crystal Police Department in 2015 and was invited by the chief to speak to the entire department about his goal to bridge the divide officers have with their communities, especially communities of color.
Most of Russell’s engagement consists of sit down meetings between community leaders, youth and law enforcement leadership. There are discussion prompts and panels around issues both youth and law enforcement face and the events do pose some tough questions. Russell shared that some youth have asked “why is it that police always pull a gun when they’re coming towards young black men?” And, “why is it that it’s usually black men who are getting shot?” These events allow for honest dialogue to take place but also serve a purpose of just familiarizing officers with their local community.
The story of my upbringing, family history and the origination of The Inner Hero Organization!!
We Start by Caring
Our first step in helping students to reach their full potential is building relationships with them, getting to know their interests, hopes, dreams and passions.
Education and Career Focus
Students who struggle in school often feel disconnected or disinterested in academics. We connect with students to help them find their academic interests and passions. We connect them with tutoring opportunities as needed, as well as classes and enrichment programs that allow their talents and passions to shine. We also give them opportunities to explore potential career interests and options.
Learning From Youth Leaders
The Inner Hero youth development and education philosophy focuses on creating leadership from within. We seek to provide youth leaders with the structure and skills to be positive role models to their peers; hence, to empower and serve the community from within. We recruit successful 11th and 12th grade youth to become the mentors in the program. In addition, we select one mentor leader to represent each school’s program and assist the program specialist. The Peer Mentors may be the “star students” as well as students who once fulfilled the profile of the mentored students. All programs are onsite school-based under the supervision of school staff.