THE YOUTH CITY NETWORK IS MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE IN KANSAS CITY. By Bobbie Jones
KANSAS CITY – I want to take some time to spotlight the works of Youth City Network, a local youth program in Kansas City, Kansas. Their mission is to reverse illiteracy in youth through community work and education. I used to be among the people living here in Kansas City who felt nothing was happening in the community to rectify issues such as lack of positive programs for our youth.
But I have seen with my own eyes how the efforts of parents, children and community support can cause a small program like the Youth City Network to thrive and benefit young people here in Kansas City so we can begin to heal the wounds caused by youth violence.
Someone has to answer the call and initiate change. It only takes one person to start a movement. Clark-Atlanta Graduate and Founder Lucretia Sutherlin and her parents moved to Kansas City, Kansas in 2009. Not only was there a dire need for community activity and youth involvement, but the death toll was rising. Anybody from KCK know exactly what I’m talking about.
As the youth death rate grows, the following question must be posed: “What can we do as a whole to combat this unfortunate truth?”
In 2008, data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and The Annie E. Casey Foundation states, “The number of teen violent deaths (from homicide, suicides, and motor vehicle accidents) of teens 15-19 years of age is 80.5 per every 100,000 teens of the same age range.”
It would be foolish to think that this is not a problem. Our youth are eradicating themselves. And there are so many untold stories of violence. After just a few weeks of watching the condition of the youth in Wyandotte County climb to a detrimental rate, Lucretia decided to do what others would not.
Every day, she looked out her window and saw the masses of teens walking aimlessly around town and was fed up with the gunshots that began to blend in with the cricket chirps at night. With the help of her parents, she started making plans for talent shows, workshops and Open Mics.
During this time, the Youth City Network was born and growing by the minute. She used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to solicit help and build a following to showcase her efforts. Shortly thereafter, She began working as a substitute teacher at Northwest Middle School and connected with the school administrators who set her up to run a full-fledged after school program with middle schoolers.
As participation grew, she hosted the first of many talent shows at Northwest inside the school auditorium. The talent show featured spoken word artists, dancers, singers and aspiring producers. Parents looked on in awe because many of them were unaware of the immense talent in their children.
After the success of the talent show and several new participants, it was time to cater to a broader audience that included elementary and high school youth.
Members of the Youth City Network decided to host their bi-weekly meetings at the Wyandotte County Public Library. The venue not only provided more space, but it served as a second home for children who were left at the library all day. Little by little, young readers would gather by the meeting doors and they were quickly ushered to certain activities.
A usual, the meetings started with discussion and performance. Youth and parents may choose to serve as an audience while the host (most times the coordinator or one of the undergraduate college participants) starts discussion time. Anonymous questions can be placed in a box and asked during this time.
The questions range from teen sex and drug use to college preparation. Then, the parents and youth openly share their thoughts; this creates an open forum which most times continue when the youth go home. Later in the month, guest speakers are invited to speak on the larger topic in a forum setting.
After the discussion, the performance time begins. The need of a performance time came about, not only to fill the need of self-expression, but to serve as an ice breaker. Most youth in the program have found that they can discuss certain issues through song or rap easier than if they were just speaking openly.
We invite local spoken word artists and clean rappers to judge and the winner will usually win a small award. The catch is that the song or dance must be free of obscenities.
The performance time is followed up with an educational exercise or discussion. Afterward, the youth are dismissed. For a few hours, those in attendance can be completely expressive in a safe environment. When I was a teenager I didn’t have many people in my age bracket to help me make wise choices.
There are plenty of risk factors that came into play. Our young people are growing up too fast. Many of us have experienced some form of violence at one time or another. I remember hearing my mother and step-father screaming and yelling at each other. Now I find myself doing the same thing in relationships.
Our youth are battling with negative influences from the media, school and the community.
This is where the Youth City Network comes into play. The organization serves as a trusted liaison between what’s positive and what’s negative.
“The youth in Wyandotte County are dealing with a lack of positive influence, they need to know that they are somebody, and can do well”, says Regional Prevention Center’s Program Coordinator Andrica Wilcoxen. “They are bombarded with harsh risk factors like teen sex and teen drug use, so they need a trusted, responsible adult to show them that they are cool if they refrain from those things”.
The biggest issue that arises with Youth City Network is not the youth or the parents, but funding. Participants need materials like notebooks, pencils and computers.
Programs like YMCA and Regional Prevention Center can only donate so much because they have to work with limited funds. Youth City is attempting to get larger corporate sponsorships for its participants such as Walgreen and Wal-Mart.
The Youth City Network is the perfect example of what making a difference actually means for the community.
Bobbie Jones is a journalist for the Examiner and ‘The Advocate News’ in Kansas City, Kansas. She also enjoys writing on green living, and she practices a green lifestyle. Bobbie is very excited to share her views on green events in her community. She welcomes your questions, thoughts and comments 24/7 at firstname.lastname@example.org Call for info at 816)288-7936