New York Times Neediest Cases

Brothers Holding Up Each Other, in the Wake of a Crushing Loss - New York Times

The brothers enjoy their endless little debates. They could be over something of importance, but then again, maybe not. Just the other week, they got at it over how many Batman movies there had been. Why, obviously there had been four, according to Andre Steinberg. What is wrong with you, there were seven, Jamal Perry insisted.

They checked the internet. Seven (ignoring the recent joint appearance with Superman).

Then Mr. Perry mentioned that George Clooney had once been Batman. Mr. Steinberg said, “No way.”

The internet confirmed victory for Mr. Perry.

The brothers were together in their Bronx apartment, perched on their couch. It was dusk, shadows retiring outside. As always, they were so at ease with each other.

They are a unit, joined by blood and tragedy. Tracy Young, their single mother, died in 2008 from colon cancer at 37. It happened two days before Thanksgiving, and with their hearts ripped out it was hard for them to understand what they had to be thankful for. Mr. Perry was then 16, and Mr. Steinberg was 19.

Not long afterward, they moved together into the apartment they still share. For a while, Mr. Perry spent time with his father on Roosevelt Island, but for the most part they shaped their lives together, propping each other up with megadoses of affection. Each of them is the best person the other knows.

Grappling with an unmoored future, they built upon the guidance that their mother had imparted to them. Such as: “Always strive, don’t be complacent.” And: “Stand for something or fall for anything.” And: “Do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.”

They did just that. In 2014, Mr. Steinberg graduated from the New York City College of Technology. Mr. Perry graduated in May from the State University of New York at Old Westbury.

It has been rocky getting their careers going, but they are moving forward lurchingly. Mr. Steinberg is a graphic designer. He had a contract with Bank of America doing graphic design, but that ended in June. He has been freelancing while looking to line up a full-time position.

Mr. Perry is working part time at a LensCrafters store. He thinks he wants to get into artist management at a record company, or something along those lines.

Meanwhile, they began a clothing line. They originally called it Eyewear Fashion, since both of them wear glasses, as did their mother, who donated her eyes to the American Cancer Society. They are now calling it Invader Nation clothing. They have been selling their wares at a flea market on Roosevelt Island.

Intermingled memories of their mother are always with them. “It’s still surreal,” Mr. Perry said. “A feeling like it will never go away. Since my mother’s passing, my brother and I have had this attitude: We got to get going. We got to keep rolling.”

There are times the lack of her presence weighs on me,” Mr. Steinberg said. “So we try to push forward.”

They have been helped extensively by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times’s Neediest Cases Fund. Another organization, the Children’s Aid Society, assisted Ms. Young before she died.

The brothers received money so they could buy some furniture. Catholic Charities enlisted Mr. Perry in a number of programs to help with the vicissitudes governing his young life. Mr. Steinberg got a job as a junior designer in the organization’s communications department.

So much of their lives has been defined by being together. Analyzing their future, they are prepared for separation.

Mr. Perry said: “We are me now. We can’t stay together forever. Even if our mother would have wanted that. ”

Mr. Steinberg said: “It’s getting to that point where we have to fly, but alone. Another gem from our mother on self-sufficiency: If you wait on someone to help you, you’ll wait forever. It’s time for us to invest in ourselves and look to our futures.”

“He’s my brother,” Mr. Steinberg went on. “But understand, he’s annoying. I don’t mind him being here. But time apart is well spent.”

Mr. Perry: “Yeah, he’s older than me. I look at him — he’s old! That’s why he’s annoying. I look at the food he likes. It’s weird.”

Mr. Steinberg: “He’s loud. He likes to clap his hands and snap for no reason.”

Mr. Perry: “I play my music loud.”

Mr. Steinberg: “Me, I can go hours with silence.”

Mr. Perry has been mulling graduate school, as well as maybe moving permanently down South, where he has relatives and might find work. “I don’t think I know myself yet,” Mr. Perry said. “I’m trying to find that out.”

Both are very close to their mother’s twin sister, Tina Young, who lives in Taneytown, Md. One of her daughters, Jasmine Williams, who is 24, has a rare immune disorder. Her health recently took a bad turn and Mr. Perry has decided to go in a few weeks to act as her home health aide for at least six months.

But the brothers’ bond will never disappear. Mr. Perry said, “I’ll always pick my brother over anyone else in the world.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Steinberg said. “He summed it up perfect.”

Read More from the New York Times

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900