The Power of "We": UYLA 2008
By Nikkita Oliver, Coordinator for the Urban Youth Leadership Academy
For some urban youth, the world is only as big as their block. Concerns about reoccurring tragedies confine their thoughts to just a few neighborhood streets; their worries are cluttered with “I” and “me.” De La Soul’s, “Me, Myself, and I” is the soundtrack that narrates their journeys. Geographic constraints and self-focus create blinders that narrow their vision.
This myopia is common among urban youth, and the blindness leaves them without direction — paralyzing both individuals and their communities.
As a result, urban life binds these youth to their “hoods” and cripples their willingness to venture out into new experiences and new places. This is a stark reality, but the situation is not without hope. God’s Word implies that where there is hope there is a vision, and where there is a vision the people will not perish.
So what does it take to open young minds and teach young people to see the power that resides within themselves and their communities? How does one plant the seeds of hope and a vision in a myopia-ridden community?
Emerging Leaders Gain a Vision
Over the summer, Urban Youth Leadership Academy (UYLA) gathered a dynamic group of young people to work in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. Out of 80 young people, nearly all of them served with Christian community organizations.
These leaders worked as mentors to residents of the Rainer Valley who were younger than they were. UYLA’s staff served as teachers, administrative assistants, kitchen staff, worship leaders, and more. Beyond experiential learning and skills training, UYLA’s leaders encouraged the emerging leaders to explore issues of faith, service, justice, identity, and community.
In addition to working in the Rainier Valley, these youth leaders met at “Urban Roots” every Thursday evening. During this time of spiritual fellowship, their discussions focused on faith, identity, service, and leadership. Speaking out of their own experiences, these leaders brought forth a wealth of knowledge that would cause any community development specialist to stand in awe. These young youth workers both challenged and encouraged one another to step up and take action in their communities.
While all of the conversations and discoveries this summer were dynamic, the most powerful discoveries that these youth made were about themselves and each other. Individuals can only do so much, but a community can accomplish much more. These leaders learned that both faith and service are lived out in community and are most effective when done as “we.” As their worlds have grown together, in the context of an urban community, their concerns are no longer about the “I” or the “me,” but instead the “we.” Their hope grows, and so does their vision for community. That is the power of “we.”
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