How six teenage boys started a movement that would change their lives and their community
“After starting our program and seeing the impact on kids, we began to see ourselves as change agents."
“We didn’t know what was possible.” “We were some very lost kids.”
“We needed a space that was safe.”
How did six teenage boys living in the Seattle Housing Authority’s NewHolly neighborhood start a movement that would prove transformational for youth in their community and beyond?
It began in 2017. A few dozen boys with little else to do were frequenting a community space at NewHolly to hang out with each other, play games and do homework. Sometimes they were rambunctious and loud, which some people coming and going near the space saw as threatening.
Instead of engaging with the youth directly, those who were concerned asked police to have a presence there. The boys were upset and felt misunderstood. Their families visited the building so when they wanted a safe place to get together, they felt comfortable using the community space there.
Following Edwards’ guidance, the youth explained at the meeting that they weren’t violent kids and if they were loud and laughing they were just enjoying themselves. They told the group that now they no longer felt safe or welcome but they didn’t know where else to go. Understanding the boys better, the community members worked out a plan with them, the first step of which was to end the extra police presence. With the door now open, positive relationships began to build between the youth and others using the building.
Edwards was pleased but saw much more potential than a community truce. With a little suggestion and coaching, six of the boys – Abbas, Eyoab, Faisal, Hashim, Ibrahim and Rudwan – founded a Youth Leadership Board with a mission to provide youth with opportunity and resources to aid their success in life. The YLB quickly grew to 32 middle and high school boys from NewHolly and Rainier Vista.
With newfound confidence, the members of the YLB unleashed their creativity. They conducted a youth survey to identify the top needs in their community and began focusing their efforts on helping youth gain employment, receive mentorship, complete community service hours, and apply for college and scholarships. Collaborations began with community centers, sports leagues and organizations near NewHolly and Rainier Vista to reduce financial barriers and increase access to services for young SHA residents.
They went on to establish Teen Chill, a dedicated room in the NewHolly Family Building for teens to connect with education and employment resources, and build community with peers and adults.
“After starting our program and seeing the impact it had on kids, we began to see ourselves as change agents,” said Rudwan.
The teens produced a Seattle Teen Summit to encourage high school students from across Seattle to serve their communities, develop strong leadership skills and challenge injustice.
With a goal to provide lifelong learning opportunities, they developed the Youth Station program, a one-stop resource shop where kids can receive help with their homework, find a job, start a club or participate in community programs.
The boys on the Youth Leadership Board and many other teens now see themselves as leaders. They have uncovered and embraced ambitions, skills and dreams they never knew they had.
“The people on the youth board are very respectful, we have manners, we have morals and we stick to those morals, we all know the lines that we should not cross,” said Faisel. “Any of the stereotypes or the things people say that are bad about us – we don’t let that hold us back. We know what we are doing, we know the path we are on, we know the trail we are leaving behind and hopefully people take that in a good way. Hopefully it encourages people – oh if these six kids can do this and these 32 members – we hope people can take that and go far in life.”