Many of us wring our hands about the state of our youth, particularly about young men and women of color. They’re undereducated and unemployed, we lament. They’re headed to the grave, the welfare line or to prison, we predict in despair.
In short, we feel overwhelmed by the ills of society and hopeless in our ability to help.I certainly feel that way many days — when I turn on the television and hear about another person being gunned down in Indy’s streets, or when I read about the growing number of students dropping out of school. It can be emotionally crushing.
But then I find a glimmer.My latest is a program called YouthBuild Indy. It’s been around since 2008, and aims to help high school dropouts and low-income adults ages 18 to 24 obtain their high-school equivalency diploma and receive on-the-job training.
YouthBuild Indy, in the most straightforward sense, is a program that encourages leadership and personal development skills, job readiness, construction and trades training, and the completion of a General Educational Development exam.But when I asked recent graduate Armani Edmond, 18, about YouthBuild Indy, he made it clear that it’s a game changer here in the city, one too few people know about.Last year, Edmond failed the math portion of the Indiana End of Course Assessments (ECA) and was unable to graduate with his class at Arlington High School. He fell into a funk and became ambivalent about his future. His mother had seen a flier about YouthBuild Indy and encouraged him to try it.He walked in with an attitude. They told him they could help him become a better man. He wasn’t convinced, but he took the time to listen. They promised him a road map to a better life. Still skeptical, he signed up.
“When I say that not graduating high school was the best thing that could have happened to me, people don’t understand,” Edmond said. “But I was going down the wrong path. I had never seen or experienced anything like this before — being lifted up and pushed to succeed.”
Edmond enrolled in the program and went through a two-week mental toughness boot camp where participants are forced to shift their mindset about learning and respect if they want to continue in the program.
They must arrive at 8:30 every morning at the building on 25th Street near Keystone Avenue or risk expulsion. Both the young men and women wear a uniform of khakis and a polo shirt. Pants must be pulled up. They respond to questions with a "Yes, ma’am" and "No, sir" and address their teachers and their peers with a "Mr." or "Ms." prefix.They also learn to open up and become family with the other participants. These are young people in deep pain — a 21-year-old reading on a first-grade level, a young man who spent more time in juvenile detention than in school, dozens who have been abandoned by their fathers.“We talk about some tough stuff,” program manager Rodney E. Bussell told me.