Friday, August 2, 2013

We Can’t Lose These Kids

 
This year, we have 25 young people enrolled in the Sweet Potato Project. The program is designed to teach valuable entrepreneurial skills that kids can use today, in their own neighborhoods. The sweet potatoes we’ve planted on two vacant lots in the city are growing well. We are working to develop another produce-based product that the youth will sell along with the sweet potato cookies to generate income for themselves until next summer.

As we wind down the summer session, I’m consumed with concerns about the Sweet Potato Project youth. Because of a grant we received from the Incarnate Word Foundation this year, most of our enrollees came from some of the poorest and most violent wards in the city. All summer, I have looked into the faces behind the headlines-youth from neighborhoods abandoned by middle class families, family-owned businesses and community disinvestment. They live in this great void created by decades of disregard. One of my students lost a brother to gang violence this summer and he’s not the only one. Others have been impacted by violence, illegal drugs sales, poverty or police, the media and a larger community that, for the most part, considers them current or future criminals. In short, they are surrounded by the negativity and hopelessness that robs inner-city youth of their ability to dream.

One of my students lost a brother to gang violence this summer and he’s not the only one. Others have been impacted by violence, illegal drugs sales, poverty or police, the media and a larger community that, for the most part, considers them current or future criminals.

The absolutely beautiful aspect of this experience is that these kids have been empowered by a powerful vision. They have been told that they are pioneers in an effort to bring economic vitality back to their neighborhoods. Their sense of “self” has been validated because so many have supported or complimented their efforts to grow produce and create products. I am simply amazed with their creativity, tenacity and ability to “step up” when respectfully challenged. It breaks my heart that we are locking up and locking out our very future.

My constant fear is that I may lose them after the summer session ends next week. We still haven’t reached our goal of $50,000 needed to pay salaries, tend our gardens; harvest our produce and to develop and distribute their products. The last thing these teens need is another disappointment or repossessed promise in their lives.

These kids face sometimes insurmountable odds-poverty, violence, disproportionate rates of teen unemployment and incarceration, the high cost of college and pressure from their peers to engage in illegal and deadly behavior. With the Sweet Potato project we have a chance to reduce those odds. Not only can we ignite the imaginations of these 25 kids; we can enable future entrepreneurs who’ve been taught to “give back” as community change agents.

Help us hang on to these kids. Help me nurture their inherent potential and show them that they have the “right stuff” to combat incredible odds.

I may have asked for your financial support in the past and, believe me, I wouldn’t ask again if I did not wholeheartedly believe that we are on a unique and powerful path. This is our chance to do more than just shake our heads at the depressing headlines and nightly news reports. These kids need more than your money. They need validation. They need to see and talk with you. They need to see the fruits of real world entrepreneurism. They need you to purchase their products and come to their end-of-session event on August 10th. In summary, they need to understand that you see them as more than throw-away statistics.

Help us hang on to these kids. Help me nurture their inherent potential and show them that they have the “right stuff” to combat incredible odds. Please join me; be a part of a much-needed community support group that’s dedicated to seeing them through the inherited madness. Together we can take them into that magic realms of personal responsibility and creativity, community sustainability and collective productivity. Please donate or support our efforts today!.

Sincerely, Sylvester Brown, Jr.

************************************************

DONATE
KSDK on the Sweet Potato Project
NACDC Website
St. Louis Beacon "Spuds, a way to keep kids off the streets"
Sweet Potato Project.org
Summer Programming Journal