By Karen Driscoll – BSS Program Manager
The Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition, one of Liberty Hill's Common Agenda Campaigns, held its annual retreat last month where 33 youth leaders along with myself and other staff from partner organizations convened in Malibu to plan priorities for 2015-2016. Together we worked with the young people in the Coalition to increase their understanding of BSS history and to create a safe space where they could bond with one another. The entire weekend was a complete success because of the hard work of Coalition partners and our consultant team, but there were definitely some highlights from the young men worth noting.
During the camp fire on the first night of the retreat, Marc Arenas, from InnerCity Struggle, shared what it meant for him to be a BSS youth leader. In that role Marc started last year he was rather shy, but being in the Coalition however, has allowed him to come out of his shell. He also shared how the BSS Coalition inspires him to do more and has allowed him to be in a place where he has the chance to meet people he’s not exposed to in his neighborhood. Marc revealed that this year he is excited to be a high school senior so that he could take more of a leadership role in the Coalition.
One priority area for BSS is school climate. Youth leaders believe school climate on campus is more than suspension and expulsion rates. It also includes the quality of teacher student relationships, teaching practices in the classroom and the presence of police on campus.
During the retreat, youth leaders expressed their desire to see their teachers connect with them in culturally competent ways. This means that the young men want their teachers more aware of what goes on in a student’s life and community and how that shapes their interaction in the classroom. Jonathan, from Khmer Girls in Action, said that he doesn’t have mental health counselors on campus (only academic) so he wants to highlight this issue.
In learning about the organizations involved in the Coalition, Johnny, from GSA Network, shared that he had been kicked out of his home when his family assumed he was gay. He shared that he’s since found a home at GSA and can see that BSS will be just as welcoming.
The Retreat concluded with a talent show where youth leaders expressed themselves through creative measures like freestyle rap and singing. It was amazing to see the talent that filled the room.
Overall, the retreat (and BSS in general) is a place where our young people can be themselves completely. They are supported by adults who help them understand and use their leadership skills to change their schools and communities in a positive way.
This year the Brother, Son, Selves Coalition will be focused on advancing statewide and local policy that promotes school climate, reduces the criminalization of communities of color, and most importantly, inspires hope among young boys and men of color.