October 14, 2009

Learn & Serve Challenge Kick Off from Atlanta, GA

President Obama to Martin Luther King Jr: Atlanta heeds the call to serve
Submitted by: Djuan Coleon, Show Me the Way Foundation

On Oct. 5, 2009 at Martin Luther King Jr High School in Lithonia, GA (a suburb of Atlanta) we gathered to energized and engage the youth about Service Learning. I chair the Show Me the Way Foundation (SMTWF) and we have partnered with the National Alliance of Faith and Justice (NAFJ) to roll out their service learning program called “Pen or Pencil”.

In a nutshell the program stresses the reality of the two buses that travel to two different destinations each day. One bus goes to the PEN (penitentiary) the other bus goes to the PENCIL (school/education). The youth have a choice to decide which bus they want to get on. President Obama has been stressing education and the need for America to step up the academic standards of not only our schools but the students themselves must strive to lead the world, and we can’t do it by dropping out.

The 2009 Pen or Pencil/SNCC High School Tour Presented by SMTWF, is a 20 school tour throughout the metro area of Atlanta, GA focused on the challenge of the alarming rates of teen violence in metro-Atlanta communities and the staggering number of high school dropouts. Tashawnya Menefee, President of SMTWF, has evolved the focus of the organization (HIV/AIDS and youth mentoring) in 2009-10, due to the statistics facing our youth to now push service learning to actively engage the issues in the community. The Tour is scheduled to run through 2010, tackling head-on the question “What can the youth do to HEAL THE HOOD”. One of the major issues in Atlanta and in many metropolitan areas across the country is the lack of funding for after school programs and extra curricula activities. Teen agers have a lot of bottled up enthusiasm and creativity that is not being channeled in a positive manner.

- 82.6% of incoming freshman report frequent or occasional volunteer work, compared to 81% last year, and a low of 66% in 1989. Contributing in part to this rise is the requirement of community service for graduation from many high schools, which has increased from 23.2% to 28.2% since the item was first asked in 1998. (UCLA/Higher Education Research Institute Annual Freshmen Survey, 2001)
- 72% of young adults say they have donated money, clothes, or food to a community or church organization in the past couple of years. (Center for Democracy & Citizenship, 2002)
- 59.3% (13.3 million teenagers ages 12-17) volunteer, versus 49% of the adult population over the same time period. Teens say they volunteer an average of 3.5 hours per week versus the adult average of 4.2 hours. (Independent Sector/Gallup, 1996)

Statistics show that the youth are already energized and invigorated and if given the opportunities and the tools they are more than willing to answer the clarion call by our President and “be the change they want to see”.

I will be honest I did not know what to expect when we launched the tour on Oct. 5th 2009, I was wondering how would we connect with the youth with what we had. In the last few months Atlanta has seen a rash of murders of high profile people and college students to senseless violence. The community is on edge and everyone is pointing fingers but now is the time for solutions.

The PEN and PENCIL program’s methodology is from SNCC (Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee), this iconic grassroots civil rights organization from the 1960’s was a true youth movement for change and a blueprint for constructive organizing. We hoped to take the organizing strategies, wisdom and passion from the youth over 55 of that era and pass those ideals down to the young people under 25 of today.

We had Constance Curry the first white woman on the executive board for the organization (SNCC), to come in and speak from her experiences. She explained how the youth of that time were the catalyst for the march on Washington, D.C. they were the backbone of the Civil Rights movement.

It was when President Kennedy saw the youth taking a stand in Birmingham, AL he decided to end segregation. The youth in the auditorium were riveted as one speaker and presentation after another reinforced the fact that they have the power to change their world and in turn even get the attention of a sitting president.

The Pen or Pencil program has a list of specific projects that the youth can sign up for and implement in their local community. When we commit to work together and partner with our young people we will see results. Once the rally was over, we had almost half of the youth in the auditorium sign up to enroll in the PEN or PENCIL program, I might have been surprised by their enthusiasm for service but history certainly was not.

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