FLINT, MI — With schools closing, the staff at Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV) had to follow suit and close the youth hub serving an estimated 600 Flint-area kids.

They’re now pioneering a program to offer video lessons and mailed informational packets for their students to continue their education.

“When we are in the normal situation we offer after school programming, as well as summer programming and sports,” says SBEV Executive Director, Maryum Rasool. “The after school programming is held during the school year from Monday through Thursday… We serve dinner and partner with 20 different partners to bring programming. All of our programs are offered free to all youth, not just the north side, but Flint in general. However, our target area is the north side because we’re trying to target those kids who are closest to us.”

The programs offered through SBEV include everything from sports and robotics to a DJ lab for students to learn how to produce music. Rasool said they encourage their students to focus on their passions and do whatever they can do to enable it within their process, ranging from ages five to 17.  

They will kick off their virtual programming on March 30, 2020, as partners produce video content that will be shared on social media platforms including Facebook.

“The qualifier is that you’re a child in Flint,” says Rasool. “That’s really just it. We like to serve people who are either underserved or just not served at all. The majority of kids are below poverty level. They do complete an application. That’s the only thing we require to serve them correctly, but other than that, we don’t require any other personal income information.” 

In addition to the kids going through a difficult time, their parents are of concern. In some cases, the parents have up to eight children, and without programs like SBEV, their lives are much more difficult. It was a real eye-opener for Program Director “Coach” Linnell McKinney.

“Since we’ve come to this screeching halt here in the country or all around the world, we know it’s still important for us to be engaged with the families even more now than ever,” says McKinney. “We have families who have had to either stay at home and become teachers or tutors and help their children with their homework, but they also now have to purchase breakfast, lunch, and dinner when they didn’t have to do that before. Then provide the meals for their children, then the homework.”

Both Rasool and McKinney are joined by a handful of educators who are masters at their craft ready to educate, engage and uplift the community. The videos are just a byproduct of the times, but the passion will still be very much involved even if they’re not face to face with their students.

“This is something that’s necessary for the soul of human beings. Not to feel like we’re isolated, but that we’re still connected,” says McKinney. “We’re still here to help you get through this. Not just day by day, but we want to give you a vision of next year, two years from now, three years from now. What is life going to look like? So we’re going to motivate you and inspire you to continue to dream.”

For details visit SBEV.org or to register a child in their program click here.

Jonathan Diener is a world-traveling musician, comic writer, and freelance journalist having written for Vice, Alternative Press and The Hard Times. His charitable endeavors include the music compilation...