The Box makes an appearance at Millennial Media

On August 13th Youth Unlocked Youth Leaders took The Box down to Millennial Media in Canton. When you first walk into Millennial Media you’ll see a secretary at the front desk, people talking on telephones, and folks in meetings. You step into a corporate business place, but at the same time, a playground for young college graduates. This was our first inside appearance at a business. Previously our Box appearances have been in outside community settings (Artscape, youth rallies, etc.). It was very special as well because when we had a funding gap during our last eight week project one of our Youth Coaches, Wei Hann, suggested that her job (Millennial Media) donate to us–and donate they did. We used those funds to get our box into physical completion and the presentation was our big show on their investment.

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Our presentation was to be 30 minutes or so and it was set in a big conference room with glass walls. Seated in the room were staff from Millennial Media and Ingoma, Paulo and Megan, and fellow Youth Leaders, Soul and Nyara. Paulo gave an overview of what we do at Ingoma Foundation and what Youth Unlocked is. Each Youth Leader spoke about their own personal journey with The Box project as well as within Youth Unlocked. I spoke about my work in designing what Youth Unlocked is and how this Box project was our first time working together collectively as youth leaders to do a single, large-scale project. We also discussed how Youth Unlocked exposes you to different cultures and people. Nyara spoke to a gripped  room about how her exposures during Youth Unlocked have opened her up to use her voice more and even have discussions with her friends about things they usually don’t speak about.

After our back stories it was time for The Box’s back story. We told the staff of Millennial Media about our journey building The Box and how it came into fruition. We knew we wanted to challenge and change the perception that exists between police and black youth. We had a few ideas ranging from a play with police officers involved, to a film skit project revolving around stereotypes. Then Rev. Alvin Herring, hoarse from tear gas he endured in Ferguson that week, came to our opening dinner and talked about the dominant narrative that exists globally about black people. In that conversation we talked about how we feel we’ve been put into a box, and how police put us in a box and we in turn put them in a box based upon stereotypes reinforced by society. We realized that living in a society where we are told who we are, what to wear,  and how to look, help create boxes that are projected onto us.. We realized that all of us walk around knowingly and unknowingly in a Box that we either created or others have created. We are boxed in by our clothing choices, neighborhoods, names, car, how we speak, facial features, race, skin tone culture etc.  Sometimes we live our lives just for sake of staying that box or breaking out of it. Out of these conversations we came up with the Box project. There are two parts to our project, the inside and outside. Individuals come inside to speak on what it is like to be in a box or not be in a box. For those that feel that boxed in talk about what supports they need to lift them out; and for those who do not feel boxed in talk about how others can breakthrough. Once they leave the inside they have the option to write encouraging  words,quotes proverbs or draw pictures on the chalkboard based sides of the box; to help lift people out.  It was time to see what how some of the staff at Millennial Media are boxed in or not.

Almost an hour in, it was time for The Box to do its magic. After Paulo played one of our box videos we opened the floor for one of Millennial Media’s staff to step into the Box. One of the staff got in and I was holding the Camera phone trying my best to keep it steady. I could feel and heard silence behind me as the room watched, waiting for him to gathering his thoughts. Since it’s my job to film people in the box, I always wondered what folk are going to speak on. Even I make my own assumptions, based upon their attitude, race, sex, community background clothing, or age. This particular staff member was a white male who looked mid 30s to 40. He opened the window and spoke. He talked about how there are two Baltimores and how he struggled with not fitting into both but how to balance trying to exists between both while at the same time not having a clue of what can be done for the two Baltimores to be connected.

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For a place so technically designed, with so many different parts, and with the guise of being very corporate, the amount of team-building activities that were there such as an Xbox 360, shuffle board, a ping pong table, and a golf game. I brought up how studies show that fun team building activities can help generate a smoother work environment and create fresh ideas, as well as help build a solid team.

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After three hours we left with smiles on our faces. We felt about our presentation and was very grateful for the hospitality shown. .. If it wasn’t for that donation from Millennial Media months ago, maybe there would be no Box. We thank them greatly on behalf of Youth Unlocked. Big things are small things simply done well and our Box has shown to be that. Thank you Millennial Media for your donation. We look forward to working together again soon.

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A Necessary Step

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As a Youth Unlocked Youth Leader a part of our jobs is to engage with police. We attend pow wows, training sessions, or police events such as movie nights, youth raps, and community walks. Police also regularly attend Youth Unlocked events like our OuttheBox tour. Since the Baltimore Uprising these efforts have increased. Recently I’ve read about the Inner Harbor Project relationship building with police. Because it is more acceptable now than it has been in the past for police/youth interactions to be brought to light people have been interacting with police more. These interactions are vital in challenging and changing perceptions that police hold of Black youth and vice versa. I have been able to humanize some police officers after meeting them on numerous occasions.  It is a necessary step for those of us who want to dismantle police brutality on Black bodies in America.

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Photo Credit: Paulo Gregory Harris

While this step is necessary it cannot be the only step we allow ourselves to take. After all the international media, the celebrity drop-ins, the enormous amount of community support, and shared stories it would be a disservice to only change perceptions about police brutality and not policies. It will take substantial laws that make a tangible positive impact that holds police accountable. It will take removing the luxuries police have such as using an officer’s fear as an excuse to take a life, as was the case in the shooting of Mike Brown. Or always imagining an object in Black hands to be a gun and shooting 20+ times, as was the case in the shooting of Sean Bell.

As a 23-year-old Black male I want to be Black in the country where I live. I want my family, my friends, people I work with, and strangers I pass who identify themselves as Black to live while being Black. I want us to be while Black. I want us want to play loud music at the gas station while Black. I want us to defend ourselves while Black. I want us to be angry, but not acting in it, while Black. I want us to whistle at white women while Black. I want us to have a bag of Skittles and an Arizona tea in our pockets while wearing a hoodie while Black. I want us to build our communities while Black. I want us want to walk down the street and not have to appease an officer’s fear, disguised as anger, while Black.

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Photo Credit: Jody Mays/Mays Photography

Understandably this dismantling will not come by tomorrow’s end but come it must. Whether our children, grandchildren, or great-grands are giving police brutality its final blow I don’t want us to kick the can down the road another fifty years. Our current efforts will be in vain if we allow ourselves to accept conversations with police officers as the only step we take while our bullet-ridden Black bodies bleed on the pavement with empty hands.

Youth Unlocked launches Monday Funday

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This summer has been a busy one for the Ingoma Foundation; besides our current Youth Unlocked Summer Session and our current #OutoftheBox Tour. We have added something new. We have decided to engage our community by having workshops that get people moving, laughing, being, and getting to know each other outside of formal meetings. Giving people the opportunity to let their hair down and have fun.

We’ve partnered with neighboring community organizations, OC250 and North Barclay Green Community Center, to launch Monday Funday. Last week we kicked off our Monday Funday series, we partnered with our neighbor Paradise Nail Shop and did facials, manicures and pedicures.Today we’ll be parting with the Baltimore Wisdom Project for our Music, Movement and Martial Arts workshop.

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There are more events planned. So if you are age 14-24 and are in the neighborhood, and want to get out, or cool off from the scorching sun, come JOIN US for:

MONDAY FUNDAY

Every Monday

The Ingoma Foundation

933A. N. Caroline St. 21205

(our door is between the nail shop and the Great Panda)

5-7pm

Since the Baltimore Uprising

Written by Nehemiah Hall

There’s an African proverb that’s states “If the youth are not initiated into the village they will burn it down to feel its warmth.” In my opinion the Baltimore Uprising on April 27th, 2015 was an example of what happens when young people are not initiated. Since then Baltimore has made an attempt to come together. There have been many town halls, forums, discussions, concerts, rallies and speak outs for youth. They have been hosted by Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, 300 Men March, the Living Well, and Dew More Baltimore, just to name a few. Colleges like Baltimore City Community College and Morgan State University conducted forums and town halls.The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently hosted a local youth leader discussion. Many loved Prince’s concert where he performed his newly-penned Baltimore tribute song. Those who have been doing the work began to come together with those who may have not been that active in the work.

Our hearts have been more open. Our ears have been forced to increase their hearing radii. Grants have been more available. That is because there is a disconnect between the Black grassroots and these schools, colleges, and institutions that usually get funded to do large scale projects and initiatives. In these town hall events and street rallies a collective force sometimes conjures up new ideas and strategies that are already being worked on.

If we are serious about tackling systemic change, then things need to change. Monies need to reach the grassroots organizations. Afrikan Youth Alchemy takes urban youth of Afrikan descent to Ghana, West Africa using cultural education, media production and youth leadership. Wombwork Productions works with young people to tell their life stories in captivating theater performances. OC250 works with youth to build recreational and safe spaces for young people to be young people. There are countless righteous, humble, effective grassroots organizations who have been on the scene for countless years. Should I list more? They were here before CNN, MSNBC, FOX NEWS and their cameras showed up, before Ravens players toured Douglass High School, before our City government spoke about systemic oppression. These are folk from the same urban communities these youth come from. Their driving force is a loving one, genuinely wanting to see the next generation equipped for the future able to survive and thrive. These organizations, or informal community groups, need some help. Their staff often don’t have the capacity to collect and report data, like those at Johns Hopkins. Most of these folks work other jobs to support themselves and their families. These programs are for the youth and by the youth. Young people’s voices are embraced and opportunities are fostered for other like-minded young people to gather and to be heard. That is because a family-type atmosphere exists within these programs that may not exist in work, at school, or at home. These young people will sacrifice their weekends and catch multiple busses to attend a meeting or an event on a consistent basis.

Institutions and colleges may have the capacity of staff and large-scale fundraising, but they cannot do what that the organizations and programs mentioned above can do. Those grassroots organizations not only give young people creative outlets to expressing their voice, they give them a chance to act on them. They look like, relate to, and understand us young people. It is extremely frustrating when you want to share your experience and there are closed ears everywhere you go. These youth are given open ears at organizations when they may not necessarily exist in school, work, or at home.

The 27th of April happened because urban youth in Baltimore were not being heard. These voices need to be heard on a larger scale, and those with funds and means can help make that happen. It is time for those with the funds (foundations, corporations, and institutions) to step up. It would be shameful and incredibly embarrassing if our youth voice died out to be ignored again. It would be disgraceful for the everyday, mostly community-funded, grassroots organizations that urban youth love, not be supported in this moment. They don’t need handouts, just a hand. A hand willing to help continue to build the village.

Youth Call Us All to Get Out of The Box!

The Ingoma Foundation’s Youth Unlocked project, provides the space for emerging young leaders to collaborate, design and implement eight week community-building projects. In the wake of the Michel Brown killing in Ferguson, MO, the last community-building campaign began. Rev. Alvin Toussaint Herring, Dep. Director of the PICO National Network worked with Paulo Gregory Harris to provide the leadership and organizing training for Youth Leaders. Rev. Herring, immediately upon arriving back from organizing on the ground in Ferguson, voice still horse from inhaling tear gas, presented a powerful challenge to the Youth Unlocked crew – “There is a dominant narrative that shapes your experience here in America – in Baltimore. It would have you think that you are small, insignificant, and even not fully human. We know this is a lie. But in order to change what happens to us, how were are treated, and even how we feel about ourselves, we must shift the narrative to one that reflects and honors the amazing beings we truly are.” He continued, “At the heart of Movement-building is regainin – taking back narrative authority.”

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The young leaders worked steadily over 12 weeks to meet this challenge. And the resulting project stunningly claimed the space for personal transformation, and potentially for the transformation of Black youth in this City and well beyond.

The Youth Unlocked Leaders and youth participants are right on time! The Box offers a positive and powerful answer to the questions raised by the April 27th, 2015 Baltimore Youth Uprising, spawned by the police killing of Freddy Gray. How can the positive power of youth be harnessed to bring about a new Baltimore?

Introducing the Out of the Box Project:

Out Of The Box was filmed and edited by Nehemiah Hall,
the Box Testimony was offered by Jody Christopher Mays, Jr.

Invite the Youth Unlocked “Youth Voice Box” to your event and take the Out of the Box Challenge!

To Get Out Of the Box, Contact us at 443.722.6359

Relationships between Youth and Police Strengthening

Thanks to the dedicated work of Baltimore police officers like Officer Presberry, Officer Daniels, and Officer Edwards the young people and community members of Youth Unlocked have had the amazing experience of building a shared story with police. These dedicated officers of the Neighborhood Services Unit and the Community Partnerships Division regularly join Youth Unlocked events and discussions to share their perspective on the causes of and solutions to the challenges we face in our community. We have learned that although we may sometimes believe that we are on opposite sides of the fight, we share the same goals of reducing youth violence, creating opportunities, and fostering a positive environment. Officer Daniels, an Eastern District Neighborhood Services Officer, says of the new partnership “I feel that we are going to do great things in the community with Youth Unlocked in the coming months.” We wholeheartedly agree! Stay tuned for more photos and stories on how our work together is positively impacting youth in our community. IMG_7825 IMG_7821 IMG_7840

Youth Unlocked Youth Working on a Large-Scale Project to Demonstrate How to Get Outside The Box and Embrace the Beauty of their Life Experience

Durvell and the Circular Saw

Youth in Baltimore are tired of being pigeonholed as troubled. Like all young people, they want to be seen and heard for what they really are — brilliant, kind, and creative. To share their message and demonstrate how others can follow their example, the youth of Ingoma Foundation’s Youth Unlocked project are working on a large-scale project to share with their community and with the world how to get outside the box and emerge into the freedom of openness. By working together to coordinate and manage this effort, the youth will construct an adult-sized physical box to share at events and public places around Baltimore. This box will be decorated with images which represent the imprisonment that comes along with stereotypes as well as the real-life imprisonment these stereotypes often impose on black youth. People will be encouraged to step into the box and engage with their own negative perceptions of themselves and others. They will then emerge from the box and be asked to share how they can free themselves of these negative perceptions and live openly with those around them.

These interactions will be filmed and shared to show the world how youth are impacted by negative assumptions and to demonstrate how others can follow their leadership. Youth will be filmed in short “Spouts” to be shared using social media and YouTube (coming soon). We hope that these “Spouts” will become viral and engage youth worldwide in a discussion about the “boxes” which trap them and how they could “get out”. Topics will include the prison system, police brutality, government, African American history, and more. Keep watch on the Youth Unlocked Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Youth-Unlocked/218720844936586?fref=ts and the Youth Unlocked Instagram at youth_unlocked21 for updates on where to find the box and where to view the spouts.

These young people should really be commended for taking leadership on this very important issue and offering to usher the rest of us into the 21st century with love and generosity.