EMPOWERING U, our core program, is a deep empowerment and civic engagement program that uses discussions, readings, values, activities, and stories to engage participants in meaningful ways and to provide some basic civics education and skills for participants to operate and thrive in their communities and the wider world.
We begin with our groups (we call them cohorts) by working on ways for participants to describe “who they are” and “where they live”. We do this using a number of tools: readings, poetry, small group exercises, and a rigorous examination of how others (writers, thinkers, artists, politicians, leaders) began the process of discovering their identities.
Our trained educators (coaches) use a deliberate Socratic method to let participants drive the process, and find questions and challenges around identity and community, so that our students come out of the early sessions with a foundation that can lead them through future work in the program.
We want our students to spend time really thinking about how they see themselves, andhow the world sees them. We believe these questions and conversations are the keys to determining a firm grasp of what “community” means, and what values drive us in making our communities better places to live.
We talk about what community means to these students. How do others define “community”? What are values, and what are competing values? Why do they compete? What are the aspects of these issues that put them in conflict with one another?
As we find students feel more comfortable with saying, “This is who I am.” we can then begin to find ways of connecting that “I” to the bigger world. We talk about some real fundamental civics: institutions, political theory, values & priorities, financial and business interests, the political process, parties, power, civic leaders. And we also bring these topics into the room, or we bring students to the topics. We might host a Q&A with a business leader, or we might take a field trip to City Hall. We might bring in an artist who can help the students create “messaging” and “framing” campaigns, or we might ask a community activist to come in and talk about her organization, her funding, her challenges. We ask the students to identify what they care about, what matters tothem, what questions they have, and we connect them to people who work on thosetopics, their issues.
In the end, of course, we hope students feel connected, yes. We hope they vote. We hope they find a better, stronger relationship to themselves, to each other. But we also understand that this is just a launch. This is the first step in a long process of engaging young people in our community for life. We know we weave our work into the work of many others to make this real for the young people we care about.
We work with host organizations already bringing participants through their doors. Participants complete our program with a sustained commitment to involvement in community, politics, and self-governance. In this way we are reviving active citizenship among the previously uninvolved and uninvited.
The F.R. Bigelow Foundation, the St. Paul Foundation, and the Minnesota Humanities Center are some of the organizations who provided grants enabling us to scale up the program in the past few years. We have partnered with host organizations in the Twin Cities including 180 Degrees, the Teen Program at CommonBond Communities, Twin Cities Rise!, and Roseville Adult Learning Center to bring Empowering U to people at these communities.
Thanks to a grant from The Otto Bremer Foundation, we have launched Empowering U with our new partners in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Host organizations there include the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Multicultural Student Services office, Positive Alternatives group home, and Menomonie Alternative High School.
In 2015, we are developing our partnerships with educational institutions in the Twin Cities, focusing on multicultural groups of young people at great schools like South High in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Lincoln High School, and community partners in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Please donate now to support these efforts!