Heeding Dr. King’s call to rise to the “broader concerns of all humanity”, the Barat Education Foundation, together with the Exelon/United Way Stay in School Initiative and their agency partners, brought students together from across the City of Chicago to reflect on citizenship and community at the MLK Day of Service / Our American Voice Leadership Conference.
30 participants in the Barat Education Foundation’s Our American Voice™ program, working with volunteer mentors from the Exelon /United Way Stay In School Initiative, braved the cold to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday examining their own views of citizenship and community, learning about current events and their relationship to citizenship, and committing to becoming more active citizens. Centers for New Horizons, a member agency of the Stay In School Initiative and a longtime collaborative partner of the Barat Education Foundation, brought all parties together in this synergistic and uplifting collaboration.
Our American Voice, a civics and civic engagement program for middle schoolers, is now in its fifth year in Chicago and is expanding to New Mexico and Virginia. OAV’s program builds upon four Core Principles to enable middle schoolers to experience civic engagement while learning about their rights and responsibilities in American democratic society. The Leadership Conference provided the opportunity for motivated participants to meet with other youth from the six participating schools in Chicago, as well as with Youth Mentors and Adult Mentors from the Stay In School Initiative. Exelon Corporation hosted the event at their offices in the Chase Tower.
The day’s activities included large and small group sessions where participants reflected collaboratively on what rights and responsibilities all members of society, young and old, share and exercise. They considered how they each can make a difference, learned about how the Children’s Crusade of 1963 impacted the rights of all Americans today — and that children helped Dr. King — and ended the day by committing to actions that they will all take in their own schools and communities to help create positive change for everyone.
Sheila Smith, CEO and Chair of the Barat Education Foundation, reflected on the meaning and the synergy of this event: “Martin Luther King lived citizenship. He recognized it was complex and multifaceted, involving engagement of individuals, organizations, and leaders. We at the Barat Education Foundation are thankful to have the opportunity to expose the Our American Voice participants to the corporate and agency sponsors — Exelon, Centers for New Horizons, the United Way, BUILD and and Youth Guidance — and the students participating in the Stay In School Initiative who are working to change lives and improve the social fabric of their communities. This is what Dr. King was all about.”
“Our guiding philosophy at Stay in School is ‘Each One Teach One’. Today’s Day of Service and Leadership Conference allowed not just our Adult Mentors, but even our Youth Mentors to really connect with young people and truly share not just their skills and knowledge, but also their passion. Everyone was able to share in this event. And we believe that our Stay In School youth got just as much as they gave,” said Darryl Xavier Johnson, Exelon Employee Volunteer Manager of the Stay in School Initiative.
Established in 2000, the Barat Education Foundation develops and seeks support for innovative scholarships and entrepreneurial educational ventures that reflect the deep commitment to: personal growth in the context of community; a deep respect for intellectual and spiritual values; and a social awareness that impels to action. Since 2009, Our American Voice™ has allowed over 400 Chicago-area youth to experience American democracy and citizenship in their own communities using interactive learning and action learning. For more information, please see ouramericanvoice.org.
The ComEd and Exelon-United Way Stay in School Initiative provides valuable after-school programming to help middle school and high school students with the support they need to advance to the next grade level and graduate. In addition to yielding higher graduation rates, Stay in School improves students’ grades, attendance rates and pro-social behaviors. More information can be found at www.uw-mc.org/initiatives/#sis.
Centers for New Horizons develops the capacities of families to become self-reliant, to improve the qulity of their lives, and to participate in rebuilding their community. More information is available at www.cnh.org.
BUILD, Inc. (Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development) now serves over 4,127 youth annually in ten Chicago communities: West Town, Humboldt Park, Cabrini Green, Logan Square, Hermosa, Belmont Cragin, East Garfield Park, North Lawndale, Englewood and Brighton Park. BUILD also continues to serve teens from the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC) helping them acculturate into the public school system and stay away from crime and the court system. BUILD’s programs have served more than 90,000 youth during 42 years by constantly evolving to address the ever-changing challenges that place youth at risk. For more information, see buildchicago.org
Youth Guidance creates and implements school-based programs that enable at-risk children to overcome obstacles, focus on their education and, ultimately, to succeed in school and in life. See www.youth-guidance.org