Month: April 2016

BYOP and Brown Memorial Youth Have Tough Conversations to Break Down Boundaries

In last week’s blog post we introduced you to Akia: a high school junior, member of BYOP (Baltimore Youth Organizing Project), and organizer of a recent youth-led mayoral candidate assembly. We mentioned that in their efforts to organize this assembly, BYOP met with youth from Brown Memorial Presbyterian and invited them to attend the assembly. This week, meet Nick: a Brown Memorial youth who attended the assembly and spoke with us about his perspective on it, the relationship with BYOP, and the work still to be done in Baltimore.

Tim Hughes, the youth pastor at Brown Memorial, said that the idea of bringing these two groups of youth together was sparked last spring during the Baltimore Uprising that began after the death of Freddie Gray. He said, “On the day of the uprising, I actually got onto my fire escape and climbed up onto the roof of my building. I realized that if I looked to the west, I could see the smoke from the fire where the CVS was burning, and if I looked to the east, I could actually see the steeple of our sanctuary. As I looked at that distance, I just thought that that space between them represents the space we so often feel in these mainline protestant churches where we care about mission and we want to be a part of justice, but it’s hard to figure out how to bridge that gap.”

Nick Imparato
Nick Imparato

Brown Memorial’s attempt to bridge that gap was to invite the youth from BYOP to their youth Sunday School hour to talk about their work organizing in the community. Tim also noted the differences between these two groups, saying the youth from Brown Memorial are “in a way, very typically Presbyterian. They are almost entirely white. They are middle-upper class.” The youth from BYOP are “low-income, African-American teenagers who live in the neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, which is where the Baltimore Uprising happened.” Brown Memorial is located only about a mile away in the neighborhood of Bolton Hill. “Bolton Hill is the second saftest police district in the city of Baltimore. Sandtown-Winchester is the most dangerous police district in the city of Baltimore.”

Tim told YMCo, “There are some obvious differences between our two groups in terms of race and class and neighborhood and the experiences of [their] schools.” He said that as he  talked with the youth about BYOP’s visit, the question became, “Why should we be having this conversation with you? Why is it a good idea for us to be in relationship with one another?… The answer was, essentially, that we are a much more powerful group when we work together, and acknowledging that there is a sort of power in the privilege that the white kids have, but there’s also a power in the stories and experiences of the kids that are in the affected neighborhoods, and when you put those two things together, it attracts a lot of attention from the media and the politicians.”

Nick told us that this meeting during their Sunday School hour was his favorite part of the whole experience between Brown and BYOP. He said, “I enjoyed that they ran it. It wasn’t like they were our guests and had to listen to us, but that they were telling us what they needed from us. That was a shift in the power dynamic that I enjoyed…Also, we split up into small groups where there was one BYOP representative with 3 or 4 kids from Brown, so we were able to have discussions about our own communities in a way that I thought was really candid and really productive.” Tim said, “Both groups were very nervous about this conversation because it required them to talk directly about the differences of race and class that separate them, but what happened is it was a very powerful and energizing conversation.”

BYOP & Brown Memorial Youth Meeting
BYOP & Brown Memorial Youth Meeting

BYOP and Brown Memorial used their combined power and energy just last month at BUILD’s Mayoral Candidate Accountability Assembly. As mentioned in our last blog post, this was an opportunity to have the candidates for Baltimore’s next mayor respond specifically to BUILD’s youth agenda. At the end of the Sunday School meeting, BYOP invited Brown Memorial youth to sit with them behind the candidates at the assembly. Nick said that on the day of the assembly, he was both excited about the racially diverse group of youth sitting on the stage, but also disappointed in the segregation that still ended up happening. He said, “In the wake of the uprising there’s been a lot of discussion about how there are two Baltimore’s…so it was an image that maybe challenged that perception, or at least was moving in a way that could try to reduce the heavy boundaries that exist between that. At the same time…there was a clear racial segregation in where the people were sitting because the Brown Memorial kids sat with the Brown Memorial kids and the BYOP kids sat with the BYOP kids. Even within that image of a racially diverse group of people behind the candidates, there was still racial segregation, which is kind of how any racially integrated event I’ve been to in Baltimore ends up becoming. In that way, it was clear that there is still that inherent racial division.” Our conversation with Tim reflected those sentiments as well when he said, “I think both of our groups would say, ‘This has been really powerful to be a part of, but we’re really just scratching the surface of what it means to be in relationship.'”

Clearly, there is still work to be done, not only in Baltimore but in our communities all over the nation. The work that Brown Memorial and BYOP have begun is important, though, and gives us hope for a more racially diverse and integrated future. What can you do in your community to engage in these same types of conversations? How can your youth group bridge the gaps of race and class in your own communities? What are they already doing to make this happen? Let us know at [email protected]!

If you want to learn more about Brown Memorial and BYOP’s work, check out this presentation Tim and Gwen Brown (BUILD organizer) gave at the 2016 NEXT Church conference, and this promo video with images of their Baltimore community. We’ve also created a study guide for you to use in engaging your youth in these boundary-breaking conversations. Check it out here!

Baltimore Youth are Making Their Voices Known to Mayoral Candidates

Here at YMCo, we are certain that youth are changing the world. Last month a group of youth in Baltimore proved us right when they organized and attended a Mayoral Candidate Accountability Assembly in their community. This event was sponsored by BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), and asked the candidates in the upcoming mayoral election to specifically address the concerns of Baltimore’s youth. They did so by partnering with Baltimore Youth Organizing Project (BYOP). Akia Jones is a high school junior and Baltimore local who is heavily involved with BYOP and told us that BYOP is “a youth-led program that helps to provide different opportunities for youth in Baltimore…basically the microphone for youth in the community. We ask the youth what they want and then we deliver the news to whoever’s in power.” This week we got to talk with Akia about his hopes for Baltimore and BYOP, and why he feels this work is so important.

The assembly held in March asked the top six mayoral candidates whether or not they would commit to creating jobs in Baltimore, including 1,000 jobs for youth, and working to make Baltimore a city that is safe for its youth. Check out this video from a local news source to learn more about the assembly. Akia told us that BYOP’s goal for the assembly was to have a turnout of 100 students, and his personal goal “was to make sure that the youth see that we’re actually trying to make these things happen for them.” In preparation for the assembly BYOP organized several smaller meetings, some of those including trainings for the larger Accountability Assembly. Akia said, “We did a lot of community

BYOP After The Assembly. Akia is on the far right.
BYOP After The Assembly. Akia is on the far right.

canvassing [and] outreach within our schools.” BYOP youth also visited a youth Sunday school class at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. Tim Hughes, the youth pastor at Brown, was already involved with BYOP, and decided to get these two groups together so that the youth at Brown could learn what the youth of BYOP are doing in the community. By the end of this meeting, the youth from BYOP had invited the youth from Brown into their work, and Brown committed to attending the assembly. A few months later youth from both groups sat behind the mayoral candidates on the stage as they addressed the concerns of the youth as laid out by BUILD’s Youth Agenda. Akia said that, for him, this experience “was fun to see the community coming together to talk about the different issues and things they want to see happen.” (Be on the lookout for next week’s blog about this relationship between the youth at Brown and BYOP!)

Tim said that prior to the assembly a lot of work was done with BYOP youth to educate them on what is reasonable to ask from the candidates. They looked at things like the city budget to come up with the Youth Agenda, presented it to the candidates two weeks before the assembly, and the candidates were given the opportunity to respond at the assembly. “Basically the youth were saying, ‘These are the policies that we would like to see as top priorities or commitments from your campaign, and we’d like to hear from you whether you’ll be supporting them or not.'” Not only did the youth sit behind the candidates at the assembly, but there was also a youth representative on the panel responding to the candidates.

Akia said he believes the assembly was successful. “The mayoral candidates agreed to what we wanted, so now we just have to wait and see if they actually do it…That’s how we determine if this was successful or not.”

When we asked Akia what his hope for Baltimore would be, he said, “Now that’s a tough question. I think for Baltimore– everybody will be able to live in peace…and that the youth will have a voice in the community and not just the adults dominating everything.” He said that the role of youth in creating change in the community is that “Young people are the ones that carry out the actions and the older people give us wisdom, so I guess you could say we are the ones that’ll shape Baltimore in the future. It’s all up to us– what we do and how we act–that’ll determine how Baltimore will be in the future.”

What outlets in your community are giving a voice to youth? What changes do youth want to see happen there? Is your community providing a way for them to let their concerns be heard? If not, how can you create a way? We’ve created a study guide to get you started! Let us know how youth are becoming active in your community by emailing us at [email protected]!


St. Mary’s Students Smash Stereotypes of Addiction

Meet Colby and Olivia: Two St. Mary’s School students who are learning that addiction isn’t as simple as it’s made out to be. These two ladies are spending their junior year volunteering with Healing Transitions Men’s Facility in Raleigh, a rehab facility who offers “innovative peer-based recovery oriented services to homeless and under-served individuals with alcoholismand other drug addictions.” Colby and Olivia served with RYM last spring during St. Mary’s COMPASS week, and Olivia was able to work at Healing Transitions Women’s FacHT-Logo-cmykility one afternoon. Olivia’s eyes were opened to the realities of addiction, and she was inspired by the work done there, so much so that she convinced Colby to volunteer with her there the next fall. On their first day volunteering, though, they realized they had accidentally gone to the Men’s Facility instead, but they stuck around, making connections with the staff, and realized there was pleny of work to be done there.

They volunteered regularly twice a week for months, addressing letters to donors, updating the website, creating a powerpoint to be used for education and promotion, and researching stories of people who have experienced addiction or homelessness. Colby told us that it was through these projects that she learned the most, and that their unique gifts as teenagers were able to shine and most help the facility. She said, “I feel like I’m able to make a difference because… [the staff there] has been trying to get the message across in one way when me and Olivia can come in through a new way and maybe touch more people.” She said she believes that as teenagers they can make a difference because they came in not knowing much about addiction, and can offer a fresh perspective to the staff and other people their age.

Colby Warren
Colby Warren

Both girls said that what they learned the most is that addiction isn’t what it’s generally perceived to be. Part of their work was to read the stories of those affected by addiction and homelessness. Colby said, “There’s a lot of stuff we assume about addicts and the homeless…but by reading stories…we learned so much more than we knew, and how hard it is what
they actually go through, instead of just assuming what we usually do.”

Olivia Collins

Olivia said her interaction with one of the directors there helped her to break down stereotypes of addiction. She said, “I always imagined an alcoholic as someone who was quiet, and defensive over their problem, but yet he just spilled it all to two teenage girls whom he just met an hour ago.” She said he was”living proof” that people can recover if they have access to help.

Healing Transitions is a unique facility because it offers services to those who generally would not be able to afford it. Without services like these, those who are addicted and living in poverty would have no access to help, or would potentially end up in jail, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. What are these resources in your community? What is your youth group doing to serve them? Let YMCo know by emailing us at [email protected]! We’ve also created a resource for you to use to talk about addiction with your youth. Check out our study guide here!

Roanoke Youth Work to End Youth Homelessness

This week on the YMCo blog we’ve got some guest bloggers! Ida McMillan-Zapf is a current freshman in college, but as a youth at Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke, VA, she was active in getting a fund for Project Hope, an organization which aids in education access for students living without housing. Since Ida and her class have graduated out of the youth program at CEC, Garretson Ayers, an 8th grader, has since gotten involved with the project. Below are reflections from both Ida and Garretson about their involvement with Project Hope as youth:

“The mission trip my Sunday school class went on consisted of visiting inns and hotels around Roanoke City, where we distributed pamphlets letting people know of aid that is available for homeless families who have children in school. Visiting these places was very eye opening because we got a first-hand idea of what it looks like to live out of a hotel room. The environment that families live in is very harsh and rough, when we think of hotels we imagine something nice with room service and little soaps, but these places had no room service, no miniature soap bars and smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and gasoline. Can you imagine being a young child, living in a place like this, hopping from one inn to the next and having to attend school at the same time? All of us who went on this trip agreed that we had to do something to help those living under these conditions so we decided to raise funds for the homeless youth in our community. We did this by selling soup and bread after church service and asking for donations. We raised nearly $800 dollars to put towards bus passes, school supplies and other needs, we are currently still raising funds for this cause and hope to keep up with this project for as long as possible.


Working with Project Hope helped me realize that homelessness could happen to any of us and just because we are living comfortably under our own roofs’ we cannot forget those who do not have a place to call home. Through working with Project Hope, I realized that just because someone may be homeless, this does not define who they are as a person and does not make them any less important than the rest of us.

1 Tim. 6:17-18 “Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them.”– Ida

“Carrying on Project Hope has been a great experience, and has helped so many homeless family’s in Roanoke. Now that I have been in the youth group for two years, I have seen how Roanoke, Virginia has so many ways to help with homelessness. It means so much to me to go and hand out flyers for homeless family’s who need a night or two at the Rescue Mission. I have been to the Rescue Mission and played music for the Bible study group there, and it is hard to believe what these kids have been through. To me carrying on Project Hope makes me feel like I am providing family’s with a home. The youth group now has grown in so many ways because of the older youth that started Project Hope. I would love to continue climbing up the ladder and succeed in stopping homelessness in Roanoke. It has been the most fun of my life while working with my friends in the Christ Episcopal Youth Group and continuing Project Hope.”– Garretson


If you’d like to have a conversation with your youth about teen homelessness, check out this study guide we’ve created! If your youth are already doing something to alleviate teen homelessness in your home context, let us know at [email protected]!

RYM Agency Spotlight: A Place at the Table

A few weeks ago on the blog we told you about some Disciples of Christ youth who had participated in a “Kickstart Justice” lock-in (read that post here). One of the agencies those youth learned about and served with was A Place at the Table, one of Raleigh Youth Mission’s newest partner agencies! nGR72MxI

A Place at the Table is a pay-what-you-can cafe which “provides community and healthy food for all regardless of means.” When they open they will serve daily breakfasts and lunches that are full of healthy, organic, and locally grown food to those who would not usually be able to access it. Meals will be served around a large family-style table in order to create opportunities for conversation and community-building.

Katherine, RYM’s Mission Immersion Director, told us that when youth groups come to RYM in the summer, they’ll be helping A Place at the Table with “deep cleaning [and] maintenance of the space. We’ll be helping with preparing some of the food. We’re hoping to work with other community gardens to help grow the food that will then end up being donated.”community-garden

We’re so excited about this partnership and can’t wait to see all the wonderful things A Place at the Table will do in the Raleigh community. To learn more about this organization, visit their website here!

What are the organizations in your community that are working to alleviate food injustices? Let us know what your youth are doing to serve with them at [email protected]!