Civil rights activist keynotes for nonprofit’s Black History Month event



Youthprise uses history to engage, motivate young people


By Maya Beecham 

Contributing Writer


Statistics paint a bleak picture of modern-day segregation unfolding within the classroom. African American youth areexperiencing the negative impact. In October 2011, the African American Leadership Forum Education and Lifelong Learning Work Group (AALF/ELL) released a position paper entitled “A Crisis in Our Community: Closing the Five Education Gaps.”

According to the report, “The State of Minnesota is facing a state of emergency: We have created two Minnesotas. In one, White children get a great education in our schools; in the other, African American children enter our schools behind, fall further behind as they advance in grade, and drop out with alarming regularity.” This discouraging reality is a call to action.

Youthprise, an intermediary and funder founded by the McKnight Foundation, seeks to answer the call in tandem with our youth and community. On Thursday, February 23, 5:45 pm, Youthprise along with Cultural Wellness Center and Sabathani Community Center are co-sponsoring a Black History Month Community Forum to be held at Sabathani, 310 East 38th St., Room 200, Minneapolis.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Dorothy Cotton, former education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a member of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inner circle.

The event will focus on the importance of mobilizing youth to transform society and systems. Additionally, the event will feature artistic and multimedia performances by students in out-of-school settings; an intergenerational panel discussion on mobilizing the power of youth; and a session to honor living and deceased heroes and sheroes who have modeled leadership in advancing youth empowerment.

On Tuesday, February 21, 6-7:30 pm, Dr. Cotton will be featured in an on-air dialogue on KMOJ 89.9FM with Atum Azzahir, Mahmoud El-Kati and Anthony Taylor focusing on encouraging youth to connect the dots of history with their own experiences.

Youthprise President Wokie Weah said, “Youthprise is inspired by the achievements of African Americans and the central role they have played in shaping U.S. history. Black History Month is the perfect time for the Twin Cities community to come together through special events to co-create a future for our youth, with our youth. The community forum and on-air radio dialogue target all stakeholders that have a vested interest in building the capacity of African American youth to lead in their communities and lead in their state.

“Dr. Cotton will bring back those moments from the Civil Rights Movement, in a way that will energize the young and the old. For the old, it will bring back memories and for the young it will inspire new dreams. We are at this defining moment in our history when we need to balance the power of experience with finding innovative solutions. The Civil Rights Movement builds a solid infrastructure for engaging young people. We can learn from that.”

Weah and staff are determined to actively lead the charge of mobilizing youth by viewing youth as assets and placing them in pivotal leadership roles. Youthprise was established to increase the quality, accessibility, sustainability and innovation of opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. In partnership with other funders, with youth, and with key stakeholders, Youthprise will accelerate leadership and innovation beyond the classroom.

The organization’s mission is to champion learning beyond the classroom so that all Minnesota youth thrive. The vision of Youthprise includes ensuring that every young person is included and engaged; every family has access; every program has support to ensure quality and impact; and every community has a clear plan — for youth and with youth.

This approach to youth engagement proves vital amidst disparaging statistics that demonize the potential of youth, especially for students of color. According to the AALF/ELL report, the achievement disparity impacting African American students is comprised of five gaps including preparation, belief, time, teaching and leadership.

It was reported that research for the belief gap “shows that the beliefs and expectations of students, parents, teachers and the community contribute to the achievement gap. Research also shows that teachers’ expectations strongly influence students’ effort and performance…

“Attitudes towards, and expectations of, African American students are lower than for White students. African American students are not given the same opportunities to participate in enriched educational offerings, and they are more frequently removed from the general education classroom due to misclassifications by Special Education policies and practices.” the AALF/ELL report continued.

Weah added, “From Youthprise’s vantage point this is a call to action to do better by our young people. And nothing says do better than mobilizing youth and community action… Communities have amazing capacity to solve their own problems. The most important take-away for the upcoming 2012 Black History Month events will be to develop ways to authentically engage with the Black community and find out what matters the most to them. My advice would be to listen, learn, engage, get involved, support.

“2012 Black History Month is the beginning of this dialogue. The events in and of themselves do not matter. It is what we do following the events that will tell the real story of who we are and what we are willing to do to lift up a new vision of African American youth.”


For more information on the Youthprise Black History Month Celebration events, call 612-564-4858 ext. 1 or go to www.youth 

Maya Beecham is an executive assistant for Youthprise.



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