This week's discussion surrounding "Question Bridge: Black Males," held at Rochester Contemporary Art Museum, was hosted by Youth Organizers (YO) from Teen Empowerment and focused on their role as empowered young people in the community and how to create their own "blue print" with help from previous generation.
The discussion opened with a spoken word performance in which several YOs touched on their experiences as young African-Americans living in the Rochester and how they viewed the world. Once they were seated, Kaylynn Brown, a YO, spoke up, addressed the older generations, and said, "We don't want you to do it for us, instead we want you to show us how to do it because we need guidance."
During the evening, the YOs used interactive group activities to help get their point across and keep everyone -- but mostly their fellow YOs -- focused and on track. The first activity was a "name shout." Tori Roseborough counted to three and had everyone stand and shout their names as loud as possible to demonstrate the struggle to be heard in their communities. "We fight and we kill each other, and they pay attention," Roseborough said. "But it's negative attention. We need more positive attention."
Dean Lawrence explained the next activity as "Stand and Deliver," in which he would make a statement question and we would stand under signs ranging from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree and discuss our opinions. The first statement was "Black Youth have a responsibility to overcome systems that oppress us."
No one strongly disagreed, but the spokesman for those that stood under the disagree sign argued, "This is America, a county that promises liberty and freedom, but yet it has systems of oppression and it's not black youth's responsibility to fix it. The responsibility is on society: blacks, whites, Latinos, everyone."
An older audience member who strongly agreed argued that "If we speak a different language and are having trouble understanding each other then you should reach out to us and ask for help."
YO Shawanda McGee added, "If we don't do it, who will? Who will take care of us? People don't care about things that don't affect them. It's our time, we have technology and it's changing. We have to figure it out together." McGee continued by questioning how the older generations could help when their "blue print" no longer applies. "The house changes to fit the times; you may change the windows and the shingles, but the foundation remains the same. The 'blue print' is the foundation," McGee said.
The YOs gave some background information about Teen Empowerment's programs, such as dialogues between Youth and Police that allow for humanization on both sides. Another program surveys the local job market to help bridge the gap between what local business owners want and what youth can offer.
Roseborough elaborated and said, "Many businesses are hesitant when we go to talk to them and immediately respond that they only hire those 21-plus because they think Rochester's youth are dangerous and violent and they don't want that in their store."
Based on the closing remarks from audience members, the youth organizers from Teen Empowerment were an inspiration to many, against a backdrop of suffering and hopelessness often seen in city neighborhoods.
This Friday, November 14, will be the final "Question Bridge: Black Males" discussion and will focus on black males and the legal system. The evening will feature John Klofas, Professor and Director of The Center for Public Safety Initiatives at RIT; Bill Johnson, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Studies at RIT and former Mayor of Rochester; Van White, Rochester City School District Board President; Ann Wolfe, Chair Elect of the Rochester Area Child Abuse Network; and Simeon Banister, Director of Special Programs at PathStone.