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Strategy: Culturally Based Youth Leadership and Empowerment Programs

Strategy Offering culturally based leadership training, counseling, and educational workshops empowers youth and helps them avoid delinquent behavior. Crime . . .


Offering culturally based leadership training, counseling, and educational workshops empowers youth and helps them avoid delinquent behavior.

Crime Problem Addressed

School dropout, substance abuse, gangs, and lack of life skills are all problems that affect many youth. Providing alternate activities--educational and skill development and advisement sessions--offers youth the tools to become community leaders and to contribute to a better society.

Key Components

It is important to design a program to fit the needs of a particular community, for each community has to contend with its own situation. Each program, then, needs to plan with its community's needs and spirit in mind.

Key Partnerships

A multifunction program requires the partnerships of many different public and private organizations. Community leaders and government officials form a partnership, and they work with students and parents. It is also important to work with other neighborhood groups with similar missions, because the groups lend one another support and resources.

Potential Obstacles

When officials and police enter a community and want to help it, community members tend to be skeptical. In order to gain community cooperation, both the community and the officials must have confidence in one another.

Signs of Success

Many culturally based programs are successful. For example, Martin Luther King Community Services of Freeport, Illinois, delivers many programs and services for more than 800 high-risk youth. The majority of the youth are African Americans living at or below the poverty line. The program integrates Black History Month and Martin Luther King Day and offers ongoing activities involving African-American ministers and community leaders. The goal is to reduce risks in as many facets of life as possible through educational enhancement programs, parent training and support, and partnerships among the family, school, and community. The program has been praised as accessible to people who want its services and successful in providing after-school supervision and academic assistance. As a result of the work of Martin Luther King Community Services, the rate of young people succeeding in the school system (meaning they obtain a C grade or better) increased from 7 percent to 32 percent. Program directors are waiting to receive this academic year's results, which they expect will be even higher. The program also serves more than 280 teenaged and single parents. Of the group of 280, 60 percent received academic assistance to pursue higher education, and 60 of them found jobs.

Applying the Strategy

There are ASPIRA Clubs ("aspira" means "to aspire" in Spanish) located in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, and Puerto Rico which boast a 98.6 percent success rate of students who stayed in school. ASPIRA is a community-based organization that teaches youth leadership skills to promote positive change to the community. During the weekly club meetings, ASPIRA uses curriculum-based training prevention awareness program. The emphasis on cultural activities (e.g., celebration of various holidays) is one of the important components of the curriculum. Youth come to the program after being referred by the school or through peer recruitment. During the 1994-95 academic year, Miami ASPIRA reached out to more than 1,500 local youth. The program increased youth participation in the educational process and resulted in more youth graduating from high school and continuing on to college.

Contact Information

Martin Luther King Community Services of Illinois
511 South Liberty
Freeport, Illinois 61032

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