2018 Youth Empowerment Conference

This blog post is actually from an interview with my 12 year-old-son, JR, on his experience at his first-ever African American Youth Think Tank event.  He is sharing his thoughts, and he also took the photos you will see below.  I think he did pretty well for his first time assisting with a blog post and trying to use a camera on subjects in constant motion!

The 4th Annual Youth Empowerment Conference was held on February 16 at the Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids.  The event was attended by local schools in the area, with the Iowa City region also busing students up for the event.  This year’s theme was “Everyone Has A Purpose; What Is Mine?”.   JR says his purpose is to be a foreign-exchange student and visit other cities around the world.

The morning consisted of inspirational speakers; an explanation of what the Think Tank is (a way for people to discuss current issues, hold seminars, and provide inspiration for our youth); and several sessions with local leaders Dr. Carols Grant, Kim Fitten, and Dr. Okpara Rice.  JR’s favorite speaker of the morning was Miss Iowa and KZIA 102.9 Radio Personality, Jenny V.

The keynote speaker of the conference was Jason Sole, PhD, from Chicago.  Check out a previous post about Jason here.  JR enjoyed this speech and was impressed with how Jason turned his life around to go to college after being in a gang.

Local businesses offered a career fair for the youth to dream and plan for what they want to do in the future.  JR’s favorite business owner was John Grant from Chameleon Candy.  John’s business serves “Little Jimmy’s Italian Ices” at local events, and he can also be booked for private parties and corporate events.  Check out his website here.

At the end of the event, local artists provided a live concert for the kids.  Rapper Jordan Burgett from Cedar Rapids performed first.  Dizzy was up next, and Buddha was the final rapper.  Buddha was impressive with all of the big words he was able to rhyme.  The concert closed with R&B artist Alicia Monee, whose beautiful voice filled the auditorium.  JR’s favorite song was her performance of “The Man In The Mirror” by Michael Jackson.  Everyone was up out of their seats and dancing along!

Alicia Monee
Alicia Monee 
Buddha.jpg
Buddha

The Youth Empowerment Conference is a free, annual event to support youth in our area.  For more information, see the African American Youth Think Tank Facebook page.

From Prison to Ph.D.

Sole Book

Imagine growing up on the streets of Chicago.  Your future seems bleak.  Kids in your class have parents that just disappear.  Your father is addicted to heroin and just can’t get things together.  People you know, kids you know, are dying on a regular basis.  Your mama works hard to hold her family together so you can at least have a stable home.  But the lure of money, drugs, and a fast life is too much to resist and you find yourself sucked in anyway….

That was the life of Jason Sole.  He recently came to Mount Mercy University to share his story with others.  The kids in his school grew up with trauma after trauma.  I think this is a key piece that Jason has identified as to why kids in poverty and violent situations just become numb to the world outside them. 

 As a teenager, Jason was a great basketball player.  He was playing with some of the best coming out of Chicago.  One day after he returned home from basketball camp, he returned home to a very disappointed mother—she had found the drugs and money he stashed away.  Jason was sent to Waterloo, Iowa to live with his aunt and finish high-school.  Life in Iowa was still rough for him.  His aunt battled mental health issues and he still encountered racism.  He did graduate high school without failing a single class and his team made it to the state tournament.  But all he could think about was how he left his team back home in Chicago and they lost the city championship because he wasn’t there to help them.

 The lure of gang life was too hard for Jason to resist.  After high school he returned to the life in both Chicago and Minnesota.  Multiple arrests followed, and once he was shot in the leg–almost losing his leg. 

 Jason soon figured out that education was the only way out of his current situation.  He earned Bachelor and Masters degrees in Criminal Justice.  He is finishing up his doctorate in Public Safety Leadership.  He is now training criminal justice students and law enforcement officers around the country about gangs and how to handle the delicate situation most of these kids come from. 

Jason’s current project is teach his criminal justice classes, and give his speeches, wearing a hoodie.  His thought process is that if we can “Humanize” the person behind the hoodie, we can break the stereotype that a young black man in a hoodie is up to no good.  In reality, he is a person just like all the rest of us. 

Jason has written a book about his experiences called From Prison to Ph.D.  It is a great story about giving people a second chance and what they can accomplish.

 

Sole Signature
The message Jason signed in his book for my son, JT.