Day at the park dedicated to emboldening young people
More than 400 people flocked to Rupert Bell Park Saturday, to take part in the first-ever Youth Empowerment Community Day.
The free event featured food, vendors, a bounce house and face painting for children, and a broad sampling of area performers. Twelve year-old Damieona Summers, gave it a big thumbs up.
“It’s fun,” she declared. “There’s a lot of dancing, playing, getting prizes and having fun.”
Damieona and her siblings were among the scores of young people who were in attendance for the Sept. 7 event. Her family relocated to the Twin City just days before and her parents, Donna and Keith Summers, said it was a great introduction to the family’s new home.
“I think it’s a good thing for the kids,” commented Mrs. Summers, a mother of six.
“It’s nice,” her husband added. “Really nice.”
The event was staged by the newly-formed group Our Vision, a collaborative of local community members and organizations, that banded together after learning this summer that violence had claimed the life of yet another local teenager and resolved to do something to make a positive impact.
City natives Rob Leach and Candace Bishop spearheaded the group’s creation.
As a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for the last six years, Leach said he has personally witnessed some of the negative activities area youth are participating in, and he wanted to do something about it.
“Out on my mail route, I see a lot of youth everyday,” said the father of two. “I see them out, and I see them smoking weed and a lot of them are not working and just heading down that dead end road. I try to talk to them and tell them there’s still hope for them.”
Fearing that his words were falling on deaf ears, Leach decided to take action. He posted an update on his Facebook page, asking friends to join him in forming an initiative that could bring about positive change in the community. Bishop, a healthcare consultant and nurse, was also working with several others to launch a similar effort, and so the two groups joined forces.
“It’s kind of like great minds thinking alike,” said Bishop, an alumna of Parkland High School. “We were just on one accord, and we joined forces immediately.”
Since June, Our Vision, which consists of a core group of roughly 15 volunteers, has met monthly to devise a plan to address the negative trends they see among area youth and help point them in a better direction.
“A lot of times, a lot of people write them off and just toss them by the wayside,” Leach said of young people. “But I see hope (in them).”
Monik Scipio, who brought her daughter and five godchildren to the event, said it was a good outlet for the youngsters, who range in age from 18 months to eight.
“Where I stay at, it’s like a rough neighborhood, so I wanted to get them out of the neighborhood and let them enjoy themselves,” she said. “It’s been good.”
The Community Day, which organizers say will be an annual event, was the first in a full complement of community driven initiatives Our Vision plans to host, from one-on-one mentoring to a Sunday’s Best talent competition.
“We just want to be sure that they have a fair chance and they have a chance to experience every possible opportunity that’s available to them,” Bishop, 37, said about young people. “A lot of them don’t know what resources are out there.”
Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods will be partnering with the group to help them devise a plan of action and serve as its fiscal manager, if needed, said Nakida McDaniel, a community organizer for the agency.
“We’re excited at Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods,” McDaniel declared. “This is like a coming out party for the work that’s going to start.”
McDaniel said the group, which has amassed 90 Facebook followers, has already impressed her with its sense of purpose and shared responsibility, as was evidenced by the Community Day, which Our Vision members planned in just six weeks.
“What they have been able to do has been nothing short of magnificent,” she remarked. “People just got in where they fit in and just made everything happen.”
JuVonne Johnson and her clan, all members of the Lil’ Ashley’s Angels organization, gave out free snow cones and painted the faces of young attendees at the Community Day. Johnson founded the organization, which serves girls ages 12–18, earlier this year, in memory of her niece, Ashley Johnson, who was killed in a hit and run on US 52 in 2011.
“It’s so many things that I want to do with the teenage girls, mainly teaching them faith and self-worth and love, that’s the main thing,” she said of the group, which held its first meeting last month. “We want to get them out and let them see that there’s people out there that love and have patience and overall positive thinking.”
Blondella Johnson, Ashley’s grandmother, said she felt it was important to support the event.
“It’s about violence,” the grandmother of 12 said of Community Day. “It’s about trying to help people, help them with the grief, I guess and giving them something to do to deal with it. (Being involved in) this makes me feel good right here. She wouldn’t want anything less.”