The Ferguson Youth Initiative is a collective effort to engage teenagers between the ages of 13-19 years old. The organization works with youth to enrich their lives, promote collaborations and develop of sustainable programs geared directly towards the youth of Ferguson. We sat down with a youth member and their director to see how they are making a positive impact in the Ferguson community.
What do the members of the Ferguson Youth Initiative Advisory Board offer?
Dwayne: The members of the advisory board offer advice and direction on issues and programs held with the City of Ferguson and the community. The Ferguson City Council formed this board as a way to get youth involved in the decision making process of the city. Community organizations that provide programs to youth use the board to gain insight and direction on what programs would be most effective in offering within the community, as well.
In April of 2015, FYI held their first annual banquet and raised over $20,000 just for young people in Ferguson.
Why did you join the FYI Advisory Board?
Brandon: I joined the board because I'm really active in the community. I really love the community that I grew up in so I really wanted to play a role. When I found out about FYI, I tagged along with it. I eventually was so interested in [helping] the community and making a change in the area that I was living in.
Dwayne: I am the council rep for the Ferguson Youth Advisory Board (FYAB). In addition to up to 10 youth officially serving on the board, other youth come to the meetings to offer advice and support as well, we have three non voting adults on the board to provide advice and support in addition to a city staff representative, a police officer to help improve that interaction and a council rep.
How do you get the community involved?
Brandon: We get the community involved by going to their neighborhoods, whether it’s posting yard signs, talking personally to someone if you see them at a restaurant -- “Hey, come to this event!” -- or getting connected to the schools.
Dwayne: By any means necessary. We community through all of our social media accounts, talk about FYI, the mission and the programs at different neighborhood events in addition to hosting booths and programs. We have great connections with the local schools and churches however the best avenue is word of mouth. We market, market and market so that people are informed as to what is available.
How has FYI been affected since Ferguson has been under a media microscope?
Brandon: I think the FYI actually has grown. We became stronger after the unrest and also after the media was so determined to tear down Ferguson; we built it back up. We painted the businesses right after -- the next day. ‘Peace for Ferguson’ is what it was called. We just tried all that we could to help our community and businesses because that's what we do at FYI.
Dwayne: We have had to grow exponentially and work harder to engage more youth and provide more programs that engage and enrich the lives of all the diverse group of youth in the community. Where before, we were methodically taking steps to grow at a rate that matched our resource capabilities, we now had to make a focused effort to bring in the resources at a faster rate ( be it volunteers, funding, etc ) to meet their needs. The media microscope has helped bring about some great collaborations.
Dwayne T. James, Board of Directors for the Ferguson Youth Initiative Photo By: Bradley J. Photography
What made you fall in love with the program?
Brandon: I love the people. When I got there [at FYI], I was nervous. They really brought me in. We’re all like a family, all the board members, everyone who participates, and we just connect to each other. We have that flow, and we help each other learn and succeed.
Dwayne: Love is such a strong word. But seriously, I love doing what I can to better the community. Without helping youth, there is little to no sustained community effort. We must continue to support our youth and pass along the knowledge that we have gained, to this next generation. My grandparents and family helped and provided me with that knowledge and it is only right to keep on keeping on.
How important is getting involved to you?
It's very important to get involved in the community you're growing up in, because it's important to know what's going on around you. If you are unaware of what's going on in your community, how are you going to better yourself when you become older? How are you going know what’s been going on? How are you going to change? If you want to live in a better community, then you need to change that community.
What has been your favorite event so far?
Brandon: My favorite event, I think, was “Painting for Peace.” “Painting for Peace” was right after the unrest in November when all the businesses had their boards up, and they were just bland.
We went to the businesses, and they were excited about what we were doing. That's the biggest turnout I've ever seen. We even ran out of paint and brushes. There were so many people there. It was unbelievable.
Dwayne: I think my favorite event was the first Open Arts. It was entirely organized and implemented by the youth. They came up with the idea, held planning meetings, did the marketing, and then ran the entire event. The turnout and the talent was amazing. It just proved to me that what we had talked about for so long (when forming FYI) was truly possible. It set the bar for everything that has resulted after that.
What events are coming up with FYI?
Brandon: We have Open Arts every month and also Spot 394.
Dwayne: In addition to our monthly programs that Brandon mentioned, we are working on expanding the Ferguson Community Service Program, developing a Teen Drop-In location/program that provides a safe space with a teen focus, and are also kicking off a program that will train youth on job employment and sustainment skills in addition to exposure to trade and college opportunities.
If you have any questions, concerns, ideas or want to offer any help to the Ferguson Youth Initiative, feel free to contact FYI via:
110 Church Street Ferguson, MO 63135 314.749.5379 email@example.com