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Overtown CRA helps young, gifted and Black

Summer camp shows Black youth can excel in the fine arts and business

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/14/2013, 10:33 a.m.
BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS: Overtown youth learned the rubrics of starting their own business as part of the FACE Training Institute this summer. Photo by D. Kevin McNeir

Young adults from Overtown have heard the negative comments before — suggesting that they are doomed to failure, that the community in which they live will never recapture its glory days of the past and that gentrification and apathy have delivered the one-two punch that signals the death of their once-proud all-Black neighborhood. But with the help of Urgent Inc., a youth and community development organization that will soon mark its 20th year in Overtown and the South East Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA], about 50 kids between the ages of 15 and 24 were given a jump start this summer on realizing their personal dreams and professional goals.

Youth participated in a six-week program called the Film Arts Culture Entrepreneurship [FACE]

Training Institute and received daily instruction from professionals that served as their teachers and mentors. The project was the brainchild of Saliha Nelson, the vice-president of Urgent, Inc. who presented the results of the four Institutes to parents, friends, stakeholders and special guests at an end-of-the summer program last week, held at the newly-built Camillus House.

“We have re-missioned ourselves so that the youth we serve not only receive the training they need but then get the opportunity to contribute their skills right away,” Nelson said. “Watching the development of these youth over the summer has confirmed what many of us believed all along — that they have something positive to give back to Overtown and they’re ready to do it immediately.”

Highlights from the summer

The presentations were creative and informative and included: an in-depth proposal for a small but profitable Black-owned business; murals and other art work that showcased members of the Negro Baseball League; a polished newsletter, conceived, written and edited by the summer interns; a skit that tested the audience’s knowledge of Black history icons from Overtown; a girl’s rite of passage component that bravely tackled the often ignored topic of homophobia in the Black community; and a short movie that was written by Nelson’s sister, Shedia Nelson. Youth participated in all aspects of the film’s development, which addressed the impact of teen dating violence, both in front of and behind the camera.

The Institutes were led by professionals in their respective fields of film, the arts, community development and business: Jalen James Acosta, Alexandry Douyon, Ryan Smith and Lyle Grandison. LaSonya Bailey served as the program coordinator.

“This was just our first year but we are very excited about the results and the growth that we’ve seen in these young people,” Nelson added. “It all points to the fact that even if you happen to be underprivileged or come from a community that is struggling economically, that you can still help to transform your community into a place where the dreams of youth consistently come true. It just takes giving our kids the tools and pointing them in the right direction.”

“This was a real blessing for me — to network and develop relationships with successful people,” said Santana Tooks, 20, who is majoring in social work at Georgia State University.

“The skills we acquired are already putting us ahead of our peers,” said Janney Johnson, 18, who will enter Florida Memorial University in the fall.

Brittany Jean, 19, is a sophomore at FAMU, majoring in broadcast journalism who served as the editor of the FACE newsletter.

“I’ve never been given the privilege of getting training in my career interest area,” she said. “This makes all the difference in the world.”