Director Kasim Yarn. Click to enlarge.

WARWICK, RI (February 17, 2022) – Lieutenant Commander Kasim Yarn, Rhode Island Director of Veterans Affairs, first visited Bishop Hendricken in 2019 with a simple message: “It’s okay not to be okay.” As he stepped into McNally Gymnasium on Thursday, he reiterated: “It’s still okay not to be okay. That message has never changed.”

But, what Yarn added was equally as important: “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Invited back to Bishop Hendricken to host an open forum discussion on race in honor of Black History Month, Yarn, who originated his state director position, opened his presentation with a warning.

“This conversation is going to be emotional,” said Director Yarn. “That’s okay because the things we’re going to talk about are challenging. But, this is what the world looks like. Are you going to be defined by it? Or are you going to be an instrument of change.”

As part of the discussion, Yarn recounted growing up in Mississippi, serving in the U.S. Navy, losing his son to addiction, navigating his faith journey, and his current service to Rhode Island’s veterans. Impassioned and emotional through all of his stories, Yarn reminded the young men that there is strength and courage in being vulnerable. “As a 300-pound, 6’5″ Black man, I was told it wasn’t okay to cry or get emotion. That it made me less of a man,” said Yarn. “But if I do this [cry], I show you that it’s okay for you to do it, too.”

Director Kasim Yarn and David Santana ’22. Click to enlarge.

In addressing issues of racial discrimination, bullying, and intolerance, Director Yarn challenged the Hendricken community to look itself in the mirror and pledge: “that [discrimination] may happen at another school. But not here. Not on my watch. Because I am my brother’s keeper.”

“You make a difference. You stand up for the little guy,” the Director added. “That’s a community. That’s a brotherhood. A bond that can never be broken. But you have to do the work.”

During an interactive Q&A with the student body, Yarn fielded questions on his life, his struggles with mental health, and his advice on dealing with racism. While addressing one student’s question on recognizing a problem and speaking out about it, he remarked: “What good is it if I reach the finish line and no one is with me? Deeds not words. Do the right thing even when the lights are off.”

When asked what he wanted students to take away from his speaking program, Yarn noted three mantras: 1.) Live, Jesus, in our hearts. Forever!; 2.) I am my brother’s keeper; and 3.) It’s okay not to be okay.

Director Yarn closed to a standing ovation from the student body. Following the presentation, students had the chance to introduce themselves to and chat with the Director one-on-one.