For more than 20 years, Ed DeJesus, a Bronx native, has committed his life to working with youth who need options beyond the street.
Countering the Urban Influence: Reclaiming the Stolen Economic Fortunes of America's Youth By Edward DeJesus (KNFP 14)
Youth Development and Research Fund,
For more than 20 years, Ed DeJesus, a Bronx native, has committed his life to working with youth who need options beyond the street. Now, as the founder and president of The Youth Development and Research Fund, Ed has blended his love for reaching youth with impacting policy through conducting research on effective programs that help youth acquire and maintain jobs. In his new book, Countering the Urban Influence, Ed captures the social and cultural dynamics in America that keep so many youth from making it. His message is two-pronged: America must make a commitment to creating jobs and educational and training opportunities for at-risk young people, and Youth organizations and training programs must become "youth culturally competent" in order to make the programs appealing, relevant and effective. The need is urgent. He points out that one of every four African Americans and one of every five Latinos between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of school, unemployed, and on the street.
Through personal narrative, Ed draws from his own on-the-ground experiences, beginning with Ghetto Children United, formed with a group of 18- to 20-year-old friends, and extending to the many agencies where he played a role in redirecting urban youth. Having grown up in an environment in which the forces of drugs, negative peer roles, racism, and rampant poverty, "the urban influence", take an enormous toll on youth's lives, Ed understands the realities under which the young people he works with must exist. Ed defines the urban influence as "any force that persuades young people to adopt certain actions, attitudes, tools, beliefs, and behaviors that betray the best interest of their life, freedom, and future economic opportunity." He points out that these influences are not only gangs and dysfunctional families; he also incriminates many in the entertainment industry, companies advertising to youth, as well as adults who "go to work everyday, yet never utter a positive word to the kids on the corner." At the same time, Ed remains optimistic about young people's chances to make it in a society overrun by these negative influences and attitudes.
Ed often relates a story he once heard to empower young people and let them know they still have a chance: "There is a painting in the Louvre, called 'Checkmate,' that depicts Satan's apparent chess victory over his opponent, a young man. One day, an old man appeared at the gallery who was formerly a national chess champion. After carefully examining the painting, he began to shout, 'It's a lie! It's a lie!' When others questioned the elderly gentleman, he pointed out that if they truly examine the board, the game is not over. The young man has one remaining move." As important as motivating young people to take advantage of programs that can lead them to future economic opportunities, writes Ed, is ensuring the effectiveness of those programs. Ed believes it is essential that programs repeatedly expose young people to those in their community who have made it. He also advises youth employment and training programs instruct through a variety of diverse, youth culturally competent mediums, such as: Urban music and lyrics Urban art Entrepreneurship activities Role playing Lessons that directly address the urban influence. "Youth workers need to understand youth culture and use it to engage young people," he says.
Although much of popular culture promotes the behaviors and lifestyles the programs are trying to combat, when it carries positive messages, it can be used to make the programs appealing to young people. Other tips Ed outlines for working with at-risk youth include the "Six Universal Survival Laws," and 10 suggestions for starting a youth cultural competence movement in an organization. Countering the Urban Influence provides compelling examples of proven methods for helping young people beat the odds and find their way out of danger and chaos to a successful future.
To order a copy, visit www.ydrf.com, or call 301-216-2050. [10/06]