The 411

Welcome to Lessons from Local Youth

Oct 9, 2017 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Welcome to the FORCE Detroit website! Thank you for your visit. I am going to take this opportunity to share a little about myself, my insights and what compels me in this work.

Detroiters are not going to loose the swag in our step or the slang from our tongues in order to become community leaders, excel in school, or be respected business people. It just ain’t finna’ happen.  So in this role, I am compelled by the idea that in order to advocate for policies that work, we also have got to figure out ways to create structures that are culturally competent and realistically fit within the experiences of Detroiters.

I am reminded of when I used to teach poetry on Friday nights at a teen center in Detroit’s Northend. Every friday night, about a dozen or so young men who wanted to be rappers would show up at the center – with oversized pants that clung to their thighs, hats twisted in every kind of direction, all of them wearing bright red and smelling like weed that had been stuffed in an athlete’s old tube socks. Their appearance would drive my supervisor crazy. Without fail, every week, he would immediately address the issue of their appearance; And every week I would shoo him back to his office, away from my youngins.

What my supervisor, and many others, fail to acknowledge is that whatever negativity these guys wanted – from drugs to drama to danger – was right outside our door step. Forcing them to take off their hats and pull up their pants wouldn’t change the violence in the neighborhood or availability of drugs in the neighborhood. That negativity was present and always ready to devour, long after our doors were closed. The teen center, which was always underfunded and understaffed, never closed later than 8pm. There was literally nothing we could do to protect those young men from whatever mischief they could find beyond that point. Instead of choosing negativity, those young men were choosing to spend their friday nights dissecting the verses of MCs that they respected and learning about how to combine poetic devises to make their writing better. This was nighttime English class without the Shakespeare. It was literally the wackest, most anti-cool way they could have chosen to spend their friday nights. These young men and their approach to writing offered a potential solution to Detroit’s illiteracy problems (some research estimates that illiteracy rates in Detroit hover around 51% of the population). Those young men were hungry for more, leaning in and spending their free time learning. And they would have never been acknowledged for it because of their appearance.

This example is in many ways is a microcosm of Detroit, and how many organizations are approaching developing solutions for my city. Detroiters are not going to “pull up their pants” because they want, and deserve, access to quality education, meaningful opportunities to transition their hard hustles into entrepreneurial opportunities, affordable running water, access to quality food, and a local police force that reflects our community and is prepared to protect and serve rather than target and ticket us. Its at that identity intersection and with that insight that I do my work. I hope to be among those fighting for culturally competent solutions in Detroit.

I dedicate this blog and my work to Local Youth and the UAC, my spiritual teachers, my business and social justice mentors, and all the youth who were open to sharing their lives and insights with me as a youth worker. May my work be always be relevant, non-elitist, and impact the people who are hurting the most.

Peace. Alia