The InSite: When did you get involved with Project Reach Youth?
Leba: In 1996. I got a job working in a journalism program called Project Express with 50 high school students who are considered to be "youth at risk." Which varies as to what it means.
TI: What does it mean to you?
Leba: Well, I question [that label] because a lot of times young people of color are considered "youth at risk" even when they're not. And there's a lot of research on "risk factors." I would say the majority of them are considered "low income." Some of the students' families receive public assistance. But to me they are really youth leaders and I wouldn't consider them "youth at risk" at all!
Well, I question [that label] because a lot of times young people of color are considered "youth at risk" even when they're not.
TI: So the students come to this program because they have an interest in journalism?
Leba: Yes! They are all from the Brooklyn community and it's a work/experience program for them.
TI: And what kind of things do you do with them?
Leba: We produce a youth magazine 4 times a year called "Youth on the Rise." The magazine covers youth issues. The young people come together and brainstorm what issues are affecting young people in New York City and in the country and what they think is important [to put in the magazine].
TI: For example, what was in your last issue?
Leba: One student we had was from Ghana. He was comparing life in Ghana with life in New York. One student wrote about Mars Exploration and the debate about whether we should spend the money on planet Earth, helping young people or whether it was important to explore more [of outer space]. One student wrote a rap that was four pages long about power. It was really cool! Somebody wrote about the legalization of marijuana. Somebody wrote about body image and how the media prey on women.
TI: And when you publish "Youth on the Rise" where does it go?
Leba: Mostly to youth agencies and high schools in New York City. We sometimes go into the community and into local stores and on the street to pass it out. But mostly in the schools and teachers have been using it for teaching guides too. Because in the past we've covered issues like immigration and welfare reform. It's all written by them, in really accessible language.
TI: Are there graphics in the magazine?
Leba: Yes. Students do drawings and photography. I was also teaching a photography class there.
One student wrote a rap that was four pages long about power. It was really cool!
TI: It sounds like a lot of work! Do the students make a year long commitment to this project?
Leba: They get trained over the summer and we hope that they stay for the full academic year. I have students in the program who have been there for three years! The program involves the magazine, but it also involves preparing them for college and helping them look at their college options. It also includes counseling. We have a social worker in the program and we run "group" twice a week so it involves curriculum development and program planning. We also organize trips and try to expose the students to careers in journalism. We also pay the students.
TI: How is your program funded?
Leba: Mostly by the Robin Hood Foundation. Which is basically a bunch of Wall Street people who decide to give money to social service.
TI: Sounds like a good group of people!
Leba: Yes, they have funded us over a number of years.
TI: Have you been there long enough to know of any young people whose lives have been turned around through this program?
Leba: I know of one student who had dropped out of school...he was having a hard time... He started out as an intern at Housing Works, which is an organization for people with AIDS. They ask people from the community to donate clothing and housing materials and they distribute them to people with AIDS. He got a very high paying job and has gotten really involved with the organization. He really worked his way up and really proved himself.
TI: Sounds like a situation where your own expectations and goals for the future can be changed when other people start believing in you.
Leba: Yeah! Definitely. I think that's the case. The young people we work with, they have amazing skills and amazing dreams, but they don't always feel that what they want to do is possible. So part of our job is encouraging them. As a staff we talk a lot about being role models. Explain to the students the process of how we got to where we [each] are now. It's not easy. That it's complicated and there are struggles. We all have to go through different barriers.
Leba: There are different barriers for me than for some of these students.
TI: Because you're white?
Leba: Yes and also because I come from a higher income family. Going to college was expected of me. I had wanted to leave high school several times and part of the reason I stayed and persevered was because I knew I really wanted to go to University. So as much work experience and other experience that I was getting outside of high school, I always knew that was always important. It's been really instrumental. The work I do with young people isn't anything that I learned in college, but...you get respect. I wouldn't have gotten this job if I didn't have a college education.
TI: So the college diploma, the piece of paper, is a person's admission ticket to playing the game?
Leba: It definitely is!
The work I do with young people isn't anything that I learned in college, but...you get respect. I wouldn't have gotten this job if I didn't have a college education.
Project Reach Youth, Inc.
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11214
Find out more about Robin Hood
Email Leba at: [email protected]
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