With the rhetoric and proposed new policies of the current administration, communities of color are taken aback, as the progress made in the last 50 years seems in peril. We must arm ourselves with knowledge for counterarguments, and be ready with resistance based on the strengths and values that have gotten us this far. This knowledge development and subsequent transfer to younger generations is critical, and it is never too soon to start.
Self-reliance, self-improvement, following your dreams, and making a contribution are some of the values that drive us. But where does the exposure culminate? Where do we learn these? Is it the school’s responsibility to prepare our youth in this manner? Should it occur in the home? Sometimes we must look for some alternative sources for our inspiration, and Youth With a Future, a companion program to the private nonprofit organization, Transformational Leadership Forum, continues to do that, and three students in the program are taking steps to ensure their futures.
Earlier generations in Denver remember having public high schools named for the four compass points and a few presidents. Today, the city population has increased and educational philosophies and funding have changed, there are 39 Denver Public School high schools from which to choose, each offering their own take on education. Choosing is daunting for a student and their parents.
Neeliah Allen-Chatmon has attended DSST (Denver School of Science and Technology) Stapleton for seven years since the 6 grade and wants to be an audio engineer. “Engineers make things and I love making things. I loved making things as a child,” said Allen-Chatmon. “I loved building houses and whatnots out of Legos. And my mom also emphasized there are many different fields that you can choose from in engineering. So I decided to be an engineer, but I didn’t know what kind, so I decided to be an audio engineer and producer someone who makes beats.”
Youth With a Future played a large part in her decision to pursue this career. This past summer participants researched occupations they were interested in. This helped clarify her path. “I remember one day we had done our research on the occupations we were interested in. They also influenced me to call up the schools and ask a couple of questions.” Allen-Chatmon has applied to New York University, San Francisco University and several others. Calling up schools and asking questions about their programs – how many of us would have done that? Allen-Chatmon is taking steps to control her future, and she is intent on having an impact on others.
Allen-Chatmon is a senior this year, but has told her cousin about the program. A trip to Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian African-American Museum is planned, and she can barely contain her enthusiasm. “I know we are going to the African-American Museum, and I want to see that for myself, but I also want to help others experience it.
Youth With a Futuresteeps these students in eight core values, mentorship of others is one, but for Allen-Chatmon the most important is family. “My favorite one as a priority is family. I remember they said what affects the household affects the neighborhood, affects the city, so of course it really had a huge influence on me, so I love the core values. I will always remember the core values.”
Family helped Allen-Chatmon discover her path. Her first love is singing, but her family took her aside for anin depth discussion about behind the scenes in the industry. Thus she made a choice for plan B, an audio engineer.
It may take a family’s nudge in discovering our passions, or we may discover them in solitary pursuits.
Deja’von Crittendon first started taking photographs with a small disposable camera, the kind passed out at wedding receptions. Crittendon’s subjects were family, the city and nature. A junior at Denver School of the Arts in Northeast Denver, he has since graduated to a Nikon DSLR and Canon EOS for his prolific work.
Crittendon believes a keen eye will get him where he wants to go, which is eventually to other parts of the world. “I’m interested in pop and political culture, environmental and social issues, Crittendon said. “I enjoy doing research about different types of lifestyles and to have a better understanding about different types of living perspectives like from a first world to a third world country.”
Although Crittendon has an interest in journalism, he is studying stagecraft at the school and is the vice president of the photography club. Crittendon’s portfolio of work on Instagram showcases his talents, and when he attended the monthly meeting of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists (CABJ) in March, the CABJOresident Gabrielle Bryant recruited him for a future digital photography workshop for its members. Perhaps he doesn’t know what he has gotten into, but he shows the confidence to complete the task.
“I think it’s important to share my vision with the world because a lot of people have unheard voices, and they are not truly understood,” Crittendon said. “I feel like I am one of those people, so being able to showcase photography I am able to communicate to the world in a different way, my view and vision towards life.”
Visionary leadership is another key core value Youth With a Future has shared with these students. Exposure to every opportunity cultivates this. Chaya Brown attends Denver South High School, and wants a career in the arts. Last summer she was the youngest member of the cast in the Aurora Fox Arts Center production of The Final Fight of the Freedom Fighters, directed Bonnie l. Betts who found her in a showcase at the Colorado School of Acting where she takes classes.
Betts encouraged Brown to pursue her dreams and advised her that in film and theater there will be more “no’s” than “yes’s.” “But he encouraged me to pursue at least one “yes” that will get me to where I want to be or to grow,” Brown said. Youth need someone in their corner to push them to their limits.
“Youth With a Future helped me to envision what I want. I always knew I wanted to be a part of the arts and acting, but it really helped me set a focused path to get there,” Brown said. “I’ve got to always be focused on it. I’ve got to be doing well academically and as a person. I’ve got to be confident in myself and just not let anything get in my way from letting me feel like I can’t do it, like pushing myself and challenging myself to get there.”
Youth With a Future fills in important gaps of experience and knowledge. Even though information is abundant and easily accessible, some students are not getting it. Even with more school choices that have more specific missions, programs like Youth With a Futurefilla an important need, and seeing ourselves in the experience of others is critical. We can’t predict what they might glean from it.
Brown, like Allen-Chatmon and Crittendon is excited about the prospect of visiting Washington D.C. to see the best of us at the new African-American Museum.
“I really want to go on the D.C.tip and to the new Museum of African-American History. It is so new and so big and is getting so much attention and African-American museums don’t get that much attention. People don’t give them the respect that they deserve,” Brown said. “This new one really intrigues me because of all it has to offer. It seems like our history only goes so far. I only know the basics that you see during Black History Month. Every Black History Month we talk about the same people and I think that’s great, but there is so much more to know. And while I am in D.C., I want to see some of the historically Black colleges and what they offer. Even though I want to go to a big acting school, it’s important not to overlook the historically Black schools.
“Youth With a Future has helped to plant nice core values for us, which includes value of our cultures. I go to South High School, which is one of the most diverse schools with a lot of students that look like me and people that don’t. It helped me see how to value other cultures around me, and my own culture and how to be strong in who you are, and how to lift up other people who are really strong in their culture as well.”
Frequently, it takes the whole culture and community to lift up the next generation. These young people are moving into a better future. If you would like to get connected, offer support with time, mentorship and expertise, or with a donation to help them realize their trip to see history, visit,www.ywfleaders.com.