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My Block, My Hood, My City Is Combining Social Justice with Service Learning

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Most youth have never traveled outside their own block or neighborhood. As a result, their worldviews are geographically bound and constricted by their neighborhoods. For youth who do not travel outside their neighborhood boundaries, their well-being, sense of self-efficacy, and educational and economic outcomes depend almost entirely on the neighborhood’s infrastructure, socio-economic, and resource characteristics. This truth poses limitations to opportunities for most.

If youth are to have a fair chance at having fulfilling and independent lives, that inequality must be revised. As a society how can we make the difference?  How can we open the door for the youth who seem to bound to their neighborhood?

My Block My Hood My City (M3) is an organization whose  mission is to educate, empower and engage youth from low-income and moderate income communities of Chicago to work together to advocate for social, economic and educational justice and become agents for positive change. The considerable limitations of being restricted to neighborhood boundaries cause countless missed opportunities for youth that live in the Chicago area. M3 began mentoring workshops and monthly community presentations as a way to expose youth to the city that existed beyond their neighborhoods.  The My Block, My Hood My City Explorers program, serves as the key vessel to empower young people and build appreciation for community diversity.

My Block My Hood My City’s purpose is to expose youth to their impact within their communities and communities beyond.  Because of this program youth have more information to make everyday decisions about who they are in society and what they can contribute to it. M3 inspires and prepares youth for their equitable role as active, engaged, and self-determined citizens. M3’s primary purpose is to broaden the often severely limited perspective and opportunities of teenagers living in underserved communities. M3 believes that exposing youth to experiences of economic opportunity, cultural diversity, community networks, and community-based services bolsters positive youth development.

M3 accelerates youth awareness of communities by providing insight into careers, jobs, lifestyles, cultures, and opportunities that they never have experienced. This is a vital door that not only removes them from what they’ve always known- poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunities- but it gives them a firsthand view of a world vastly different than their own and challenges them to rethink the impactful power they have in improving their community. By witnessing the positive activities and spaces in their own communities, as well as those they visit, the youth are armed with information to dispel the negative images and stereotypes that they are bombarded with daily. This helps develop a sense of pride and respect for what is valuable and the assets that exist in their neighborhoods.

To enhance their program My Block, My Hood, My City has now taken awareness and exposure to a new level by adding a service learning component. Experience has taught them that youth are seeking not only further exposure to networks and opportunities outside their community but also opportunities to make their community a better place to live.

M3 has recently adopted a service learning program component to the organization called Service Learning Exchange (SLE). Aligned with the Explorer program’s focus on connection and exploration, SLE utilizes video technology to connect youth to their peer network across the city, empowering and mobilizing youth to actively engage in discussions of community issues and their responsibility towards them. SLE provides months of online discussions and planning.  Afterwards the youth are then given the opportunity to travel to their peers’ communities to assist them in implementing service projects that positively impact those communities.

M3 is taking the proper steps to enrich the youth of Chicago by developing their culture through physical and vital connections. Community transformation efforts cannot be successful unless the members of those communities are involved in setting the agenda for change.  Social change cannot happen without youth engagement or awareness.

Youth expand their awareness of their geographical surroundings and opportunities by learning the history of their own and other communities, by understanding the current issues those communities face, and by participating in the experience outings,. As a result of their increased community engagement, youth feel more connected to their communities and city creating much needed social change.

Written by Arasha Reece

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Arasha Reece received a B.S in Psychology from Troy University and is currently attending University of Southern California to receive her Master in Social Work with a concentration in Community Organization, Planning and Administration (COPA). With a sub-concentration is Military Social Work.

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