Filed Under:  Local, News

‘Rethinkers’ continue to take lead in call for youth action

4th August 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

On Thursday July 24, Rethink’s Summer Leadership Institute celebrated a “day of action” to call for youth empowerment, and to show off the various projects the campers completed this summer.

Since 2006, Rethink’s summer program—held this year at Wilson Community Center—has gathered to raise awareness and consciousness around an issue of the students’ choosing. The five-week camps first began post Katrina. “It was designed to help the kids understand what had just happened to them,” says Rethink executive director Karen Marshall, who moved to New Orleans from Boston last October. “It was also to let the kids have a say in the way the new schools would be restructured.” Rethink became a year-round non-profit program in 2008.

The area’s “Rethinkers of 2014,” who call themselves Ujima Collective, consist of middle school- and high-school-age students

The area’s “Rethinkers of 2014,” who call themselves Ujima Collective, consist of middle school- and high-school-age students

This year’s theme was freedom, and also oppression, be that systemic or simple bullying. The “Rethinkers,” as the students were called, consisted of 46 registered middle schoolers between the ages of ten and 14. About eight high school students ages 15 to 22–calling themselves the Ujima Collective—effectively facilitated the younger students and led them in group discussions, art projects and other activities. The older kids essentially ran the camp, under the watchful eye of several adults.

Last week, on the 50th anniversary of “Freedom Summer,” the campers met for their day of action at the Rethink building next to Café Reconcile in Central City. In a dark back room, students showed movies they’d made. Other rooms displayed various freedom/oppression-themed artwork, including a magazine full of original comics. A poem by Kayla Addison read, “I love AND hate the east. I love my friends and hate mean boys.” A photograph by Saniyah Barthe­lemy titled “I Eat What I Get” showed a bowl of shredded wheat that came with the explanation, “Even if the food is frozen or nasty, I still eat it because I only get one meal a day at school.” The Rethinkers also performed series of poignant spoken word pieces downstairs, where Jamia Brown preached, “They stop and frisk, but don’t stop and think…”

The students then led the crowd in some traditional Civil Rights anthems—“Ain’t gonna let nobody / no school / no prison / no government, turn me around.” – as another student pounded out a bounce beat on a nearby metal pole.

The Rethinkers were then led upstairs to participate in story circles where they discussed times when they had faced injustice. The adults stayed downstairs to hear Karen Marshall discuss ways in which they can help empower local youth. Marshall asked the adults to agree to help the kids channel their anger in productive way, to protect them, allow them to make mistakes, and encourage them. “Are you willing to be elders for our young people?” Marshall asked.

“Hell yes!” announced one parent.

After two years as a Rethinker, Kennadi Robinson, a 14-year-old from Ben Franklin, served this year as a Ujima Collective high school facilitator. “This is my third year with Rethink,” she said. “I have grown a lot, and my favorite part is watching everyone else grow in the same way I have.”

Kyler Hughes, 15, a Ujima Collective facilitator and youth journalist, wrote and published two important essays this summer. “I like journalism because I like to write, but I also like to talk to people and ask questions,” said Hughes, who then added, “Can I ask you a question? What will you agree to do to help empower youth?”

This article originally published in the August 4, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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