Suppose you still didn’t know about the powerful and inspirational national Community Schools Leadership Retreat that United Way of Asheville and Buncombe Co. helped to host. In that case, you probably aren’t following us on our social media channels. You might want to do that… right now. ?
But in all seriousness, If you missed all the exceptional leaders that converged upon Asheville during November 2022, do not worry because there were so many impactful moments that we are still sharing these stories with you now! However, to know precisely what happened at the Community School Leadership Retreat, you can read our explainer article HERE.
With over 80+ nationally recognized leaders visiting our Community Schools in November, United Way took the opportunity to share more about our work beyond our Community Schools. We wanted to inform everyone about the United for Youth Network and other initiatives that led to several United Way events within one jam-packed week! One community event at the historic Stephens Lee Recreation Center focused on the lessons the Ashville youth have to offer national leaders from the Community School Leadership retreat and Buncombe county leaders and organizers.
Joseph Jamison, Director of Network Transformation at United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County(UWABC), spearheaded the event to highlight the relationships between our community members and the entire community’s connection to the national story of youth leadership and support. The United for Youth Network, also referred to as U4Y, was the central unifier for this event. If you do not know, the United for Youth Network is a partnership forged between Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, and representatives of local health, social service, higher education, and youth services community partners. The mission of this large-scale partnership is to actively identify and remove barriers to opportunity and co-create solutions that support student success. With the United for Youth mission in mind, a goal has been co-created by students, parents, and community partners. The Bold Community Goal is, by 2035, to have ALL Asheville City and Buncombe County students graduate high school ready and fully prepared to pursue their goals and dreams.
Joseph Jamison began the United for Youth Network event by sharing and reminding everyone in the room of the Bold Community Goal. Then an extraordinary guest stood up to address the room. Ms. Bettie, an Asheville native and an elder in our community, grew up in the Stephens-Lee High School district. Ms. Bettie recounted cherished memories within the walls of where the crowd was sitting and spoke of the community support that was palpable within the former school. She continued to share her lived experience of how, due to de-segregation, the redlining of school districts fragmented her community. Yet, despite the harsh truth of de-segregation in the Asheville community, Ms. Bettie left the crowd with a message of hope.
“What they did was, during de-segregation, they displaced us out of everything. And with community schools, we want to bring it back… We want to bring back community because we want to help our children.”
To fully live up to Ms. Bettie’s call for a unified community that understands and confronts its history, the United for Youth event took a different approach to discuss youth leadership and support. In all four corners of the room, written posters hung on the walls. One read, “Adults should do this alone,” the next, “Adults should with youth input,” the other, “Youth should with adult help,” and the final poster said, “Youth can do this alone.” An activity was devised where the crowd, some 50 people, would stand in the corner that best aligned with what they believed in response to the prompt read to them.
The activity jump-started the room and created profound conversations within small groups. However, this emphasis on sharing continued after this activity. After the crowd was fully awake, high school students from the Racial Equity Ambassadors Program(REAP) group at Asheville High School directed the convening. Four students of varying high school grades took the time to explain the programs the Asheville City Schools Foundation offers and share their experiences of dealing with complex situations within their schools.
Although the students chaired the front of the room and directed the conversation, the forum was conversational and gave local and national leaders insight into the lives of the youth they are working to support. Some leaders jaunted down notes while others snapped or let out small exclamations of support as the students shared their experiences. The event was a physical example of the values the United for Youth Network strives to fulfill. Youth voices led the conversation, and the crowd represented multiple levels of leadership and cross-community partners and supporters. Each person in the room came with a unique background and perspective on what it means to support our youth.
Staying engaged and working collaboratively are the keystones to successfully moving this work forward. We invite you to take the next step in keeping the momentum going:
- Volunteer your time at a local Community Night (featuring Homework Diners)
- Learn more about United for Youth, the Bold Community Goal, and our Partnership Agreement
- Support the work happening in Community Schools throughout Asheville and Buncombe County
- Learn more about the Coalition for Community Schools and the Institute for Educational Leadership's Asheville retreat