At Humanities Amped in 2021, we are celebrating the first of our three core values: beloved community. As we look toward the future and its challenges, this aspect of our organizational vision, to nurture a dynamic, beloved community of lifelong learners and civic leaders, has never felt more essential to our individual and collective well-being. Over the next few months, we will release a series of think pieces reflecting on the theme of beloved community and how it shows up in our work at Humanities Amped. Click here to learn more about the heart of beloved community and why it matters so deeply to us.
My first performance in front of a huge crowd was February 1998 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where I performed at the city's Black History program. I was oh so nervous, but I sucked it up and laid out a flawless performance. My anxiety was so high that when I finished and the crowd gave me a standing ovation, I walked as fast as I could to my dad’s van and cried my eyes out. As a touring hip-hop artist I’ve performed in front of thousands, but never have I been as nervous as I was that day. I’m comfortable being in front of crowds because I was taught how to “speak” by The Fox.
When I was in 6th grade, she told me when I got to 7th grade I was gonna be in her class. When I got to 7th grade she pulled me from my English class, and enrolled me in an elective class called Pro-Team. I’m not exactly sure what the curriculum was for Pro-Team, nor how it was so important I didn’t have to take 7th grade English, but I know she taught me how to do speeches, and I got so good she entered me in speech & oratorical contests all across the state of Oklahoma. I had memorized “God’s Trombone” by James Weldon Johnson, and I was killing it.
The Fox was/is old school though. I was a church boy, a son of a gospel musician. I was supposed to be at choir practice, practicing my tenor harmonies for the African American Youth Achievers choir. I was in the 11th grade (I think), starting to act out due to family trauma that I didn’t know how to describe or communicate until I myself was a youth worker and parent well into my 30’s. Me & a few other homies, whom I won’t name, were on the corner doing Lord knows what, with who knows what tucked in the small pocket of some jeans that were probably Fubu. We was “outchea,” as the kids say.
Next thing I know, a car swoops up on the curb and a figure about 5’9, 5’11 with heels, hops the Nissan and charges towards us. 2 of the 3 boys were in the choir, one was not. The dude who was not got ghost on us, leaving us frozen until we were apprehended and thrown in the back of the Nissan, and summarily cursed out. I was just praying that my dad would not be called, and my guy just wanted the chastisement to end. Instead, the Nissan pulled up to the church house, and we were again cursed out in the most lovingly way possible. After receiving the most endearing rebuke ever, we were made to go sing our parts like nothing ever happened. Luckily for me, my father never knew about it, nor were my friend and I patted down. I’m not gonna say who had what, but let's just say I’ve never tried to sing with perfect pitch more than I did this night.
Now that I’m grown, I look at all the things the people who love and care about me did to make me a better person, and I also work hard to fill in the gaps they may have overlooked while doing their version of the Lord’s work. That’s why I do what I do, that’s why I do it how I do it.
As an adult, I will never not be that same kid from a small town where a lot of people do not get to leave. A kid through the benevolence of The Most High, my ancestors, my loved ones, grew to be a college graduate who travels the country spittin’ Pan-African conscious hip-hop for gang members. The pandemic took away touring, so I’m now functioning as a Hip-Hop educator who teaches an elective middle school class with Humanities Amped that intersects hip-hop culture with social justice themes. I too will pull up on some youth brothers on the corner who may or may not be doing Lord knows what, the difference is I will meet them there, and ask them how they are doing. If the rapport is there, I’ll ask them why they are on this corner, and what I can do to help them get off it.
There’s a rapper named Li’l Baby from Atlanta, GA, known mostly for his autotuned melodic raps about hustling, flossing, and all types of street stories. In the summer of 2020 after Rayshard Brooks was murdered by Atlanta PD there were several protests, some even turned to riots where buildings were vandalized. Baby was so moved by the events that he left his million dollar mansion in the suburbs of Atlanta and started attending the marches & protests. This was the inspiration for his now Grammy nominated song “The Bigger Picture.”
When I say Hip-Hop, I’m not talking about simply rapping or beats. I’m speaking to the way people think, interact, & express themselves. We can be hip-hop without ever mumbling a rap lyric or tapping our toes to the beat. In our #FreeHipHop class, our beloved community has created a space where we can be us, free of judgement & limitations. We listen, we learn, we love. We praise successes, and support when there’s tragedy. We meet each other where we are. In our beloved community, we put our culture over everything.
As Black History Month comes to a close, it is important that we treasure the wisdom of our elders and elevate the leadership demonstrated by our youth. The Sankofa bird is often interpreted to mean "return and get it."
Register using the link below to join us tomorrow, February 26, as our young guest community activists Myra Richardson and Anthony Kenny engage in a two-way dialogue with the founder of Dialogue on Race Louisiana and LSU desegregationist Maxine Crump and the first Black EBR school board member and EBR public schools desegregationist, Press Robinson.
In the afternoon we'll be showing off EBR students' soul at Fresh Heat: The Griot Edition, hosted by Asia Reese and Marcel P. Black. Asia is a Humanities Amped alumna and community educator at Belaire High School. Marcel is an Amped hip hop educator at Westdale Middle and founder of the after school hip hop leadership series Soul Cypher. You do not want to miss this amazing showcase!
We also invite you to read this report on the history of Black Baton Rouge, written by Dr. Lori Martin & Christopher J. Tyson, JD, and published by MetroMorphosis.
What's New at Humanities Amped
Forming Youth City Lab with our partners Front Yard Bikes, Big Buddy Program, and Line 4 Line represents enormous possibility for our Baton Rouge youth! Read more about it here.
Thank you, Amped family! We are so, so grateful for your generosity over the course of the #AmplifyHope Drive, especially in light of the year’s challenges. We recognize the importance of your choice to support this work, and we value your trust in us.
Because of you, we have been able to continue building a beloved community with Baton Rouge youth and educators as we amplify well-being, youth voice, and community-minded problem solving together. Here’s what that work looks like:
Coaching & Mentorship for Amped Educators
A cohort of teachers at Park Forest Middle, Westdale Middle, Belaire High, Broadmoor High, and McKinley High Schools meet regularly with an Amped coach to reflect, plan, and implement Amped methods in their classrooms. In the words of one Amped teacher, “Coaching gives me the tools and the confidence in my journey toward becoming an Amped teacher who can model methods for my cohorts.” Because of your generosity, we are able to offer ongoing professional development tailored to our teachers’ goals and their desire to develop as leaders.
Transformative Leadership Experiences for Students
Amped Studio Afterschool offers youth a chance to extend their Amped experience after school through tutoring, opportunities to grow as writers in WordCrew weekly writing workshops, and tools to build the future they desire in Dreamkeepers. Youth in Amped Studio have dedicated space to build community and leadership skills: last semester, an apprentice leader shared with us that being in Amped has taught her that “when other people tell me what they’re going through and I don’t understand, I know I don’t need to understand, I just need to be there for them.” Our new Soul Cypher weekly training builds on these ideas: in Soul Cypher peer leaders use hip hop as a lens to engage in dialogue about mental health and ways to support peers in crisis.
In addition to providing some classes with a dedicated Amped Community Educator, a partner teacher who collaboratively plans and co-teaches Amped electives, we are also offering a series of push-in workshops that support youth voice through writing and well-being through dialogue.
Black Futures: The Sankofa Series Black History Program
This February 26th event, co-sponsored by Humanities Amped and Metromorphosis, will feature intergenerational dialogue, a special edition of Fresh Heat Open Mic, and a variety of performances and visual art submissions from young people around Baton Rouge. Look for more information about how to attend this event soon!
We are excited about the learning and growth ahead of us in the year to come as we set up shop with our Youth City Lab coalition partners in our new home at 4385 Government Street. Our work is not possible without your support, and we are proud to have you on our team!
You amplify our power and possibility!
Report on Day of Dialogue on Race & Education Community Forum 9:00am - 2:00pm Friday November 13, 2020
On November 13th, over 200 students, educators, and community leaders came together to participate in a day-long dialogue on race in education in East Baton Rouge Parish. The day included panels, small group dialogues, and workshops, all focused on the critical intersection of race and education with an emphasis on the root causes of racial disparities in education in the context of our local schools.
Many participants commented throughout the day that a wider audience would benefit from the historical and social analysis taking place, especially school board members, the incoming superintendent, and anyone in an educational leadership position in our community. As part of the day’s call to action, we ask that this report and the embedded videos be forwarded widely throughout our community, especially among school leaders and decision-makers.
The lunch panel featured Dr. Lisa Delpit, Dr. Press Robinson, and Dr. Jose Aviles. Dr. Press Robinson, the first Black school board member in EBRPSS, spoke to the process by which efforts to integrate Baton Rouge’s public schools in the 1980’s were undermined by mass divestment from public schools and policies that ultimately worsened conditions for Black students. Dr. Robinson argued that “the detrimental effects of desegregation are playing out today, and the effects are becoming more and more pronounced.”
Dr. Delpit spoke to what she calls the “smog of racism” in educational institutions. She explained, “Students internalize the smog of racism and question their own abilities. We must see our children as the brilliant beings they are with the history of brilliance they bring to our classrooms. And we have to gain the knowledge to be able to set the stage for the flowering of that brilliance by allowing them and us to see clearly what the smog of racism has been hiding.”
Dr. Aviles emphasized the role of belonging & inclusion to combat the ill effects of systemic racism, emphasizing how programs like the Pre-Scholars Academy at LSU are creating communities of belonging & inclusion, proving that students who have traditionally been denied access to college can become the school’s greatest assets, even outperforming other students, when they are adequately supported. He urged people to take action in their own sphere of influence, urging participants, “If we all do our part and get out of our comfort zone, we’re going to change the world.”
See the video of the lunch panel below.
These morning and afternoon sessions further set the stage for dynamic conversations:
In the closing plenary, participants were asked to share their vision for education in EBR. Participants called for changes , including:
“A reinvestment in public schools that centers the leadership of Black and brown communities”
“Policies [that] focus on equity and restorative practices within the educational system”
“A lot more truth telling like we had today. If we can't diagnose the problem, we can't get to the real solution”
“Hire a local leader as superintendent and work to improve all schools in the parish, and not just the magnet schools.”
In summary, the day brought together community stakeholders for engaging and insightful conversations. Please join us in spreading the word so that more stakeholders in our community can gain the historical information and analysis that carried the day.
The event was co-sponsored by Dialogue on Race Louisiana, Humanities Amped, and Serve Louisiana.
What's new at Humanities Amped
Our annual Amplify Hope drive has so far raised $18,400, but we have a long way to go to reach our goal of $80,000! We invite you to join us in our work to amplify well-being, youth voice, and community-minded problem solving in Baton Rouge public schools at humanitiesamped.com/support. We cannot do this work without you!
Announcing our new building!
On Nov. 6th, the keys to 4385 Government Street were handed over to the leaders of four Baton Rouge youth organizations who together represent a newly formed Youth Coalition: Humanities Amped, Front Yard Bikes, Big Buddy Program, and Line 4 Line.
The coalition’s purpose is to provide a vibrant shared space where Baton Rouge youth have access to a network of relationships and opportunities grounded in the worth and power of young people to realize themselves and transform their communities. An open house for the public will take place as part of White Light Night on November 20th.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation provided the initial $250K in funding through an “Angels of Change Award” intended to support past BCBS honorees to collaborate on solving issues for Louisiana’s children. This award will support the renovation and development of the space.
The coalition plans to provide a range of programming at the center, including a community-owned bike shop (Front Yard Bikes), a full-service salon where youth receive hands-on training in barbering and beauty techniques, a Community Reading Room (Line4Line), and youth workforce experiences and skill development workshops (Big Buddy Program). This exciting move to a building will provide Humanities Amped with a dedicated space for Amped Studio Afterschool, tutoring and healing circles, WordCrew spoken word poetry, Fresh Heat Open Mics, youth civic engagement projects and conferences, Dreamkeepers college and career readiness, and array of training for educators, youth workers and peer leaders.
We cannot wait to see what this space makes possible for Baton Rouge youth!
TEACHER CARE DELIVERY DAY
Last month Humanities Amped staff surprised our teachers with care packages filled with gift cards to local businesses, a Humanities Amped t-shirt and mask, and a hot lunch courtesy of Memphis Mac BBQ. At Humanities Amped, we believe that teacher well-being matters!
In response to the teachers' expressed needs, Humanities Amped staff also delivered cleaning supplies to support our teachers in doing what they can to keep their classrooms safe.
Board members Carlos Thomas, Megan Sheehan-Dean, and Andrew Kuo helped make the day a success.
We would like to extend a special thank you to Memphis Mac, Mid City Beer Garden, Vegan Friendly Foods, The Joint Chiropractic, Costco, Lowe's, and Elsie's Plate and Pie for their donations!
Day of Dialogue on Race & Education
Join us on November 13 for this online event featuring three panels and dialogues on the critical intersection of race and education. Three separate panels will feature local education experts. Each panel will be followed by dialogues with groups of teachers, students, educational leaders, and community members. Choose to attend the full day of panels with opening and closing plenaries or select the panels you wish to attend.
We are excited to welcome Dr. Lisa Delpit, Dr. Press Robinson, and Dr. Jose Aviles as panelists. See the full program schedule below or here.
This event is co-sponsored by Dialogue on Race Louisiana, Humanities Amped, and Serve Louisiana, and registration is open now: in order for educators and students to attend this event for free, we are asking for a $5 donation from anyone who is able.
Listen, learn, and join the dialogue!
The inaugural Humanities Amped Learning Community Summer Institute, attended by nearly 50 participants representing EBRPSS educators from five schools, Amped Community Educators, and high school and middle school youth apprentice leaders, has been running online for the last three weeks. Despite the inherent challenges of distance learning, our learning network members engaged in community building, workshops, and reading and reflection focusing on culturally sustaining pedagogies, restorative justice practices, mind-body wellness, and arts integration. Sessions leaders included Eric Butler from Talking Piece, Toni Bankston from the Baton Rouge Children's Advocacy Center, Lorena Germán from The Multicultural Classroom, and Forward Arts Teaching Artists Desireé Dallagiacomo and Donney Rose. Throughout the institute, planning teams of educators and youth have sought to address the following driving questions:
What are the conditions of student and educator well-being, connectedness, and engagement as civic-minded problem-solvers? How do we center these priorities in online/hybrid learning?
The teams worked collaboratively to develop concrete action plans for the coming school year.
One middle school apprentice leader shared that their biggest take-away from the institute has been “Learning about restorative justice and collective hope.” An EBR teacher also mentioned the notion of collective hope, offering that “Deeper student-teacher collaboration leads to braver, richer learning spaces. Transformative justice requires collective hope, which requires connection, imagination and action.” Another EBR teacher expressed, “I’m not alone. I found out there are others who see the struggle in our classroom and are willing to not only call it out, but be active participants in change at ground zero (the classroom).”
We celebrated the close of this institute with an online forum highlighting the work of four teams. We were joined by special guest Dr. David Stovall, who provided framing for this work as well as a response to each presentation. We invite you to not only view the forum (below), but to visit our Summer Institute webpage to review all of the team plans for the 2020-21 school year!
We are grateful for the support of ReCAST Baton Rouge, the Huey and Angelina Wilson Family Foundation, and the partnership of the Big Buddy Program, the EBRPSS 21st Century Learning Center, and the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. And as always, we are grateful for your support of this work as we continue to engage in what Dr. Shawn Ginwright calls radical imagination, or "our collective dreaming about how things should be" (2016, p. 23). Thank you for engaging in radical imagination with us!
Dear Supporters of Humanities Amped,
We hope that you are finding ways to stay safe and care for yourself and your family during this unusual time, and we want let you know that the Humanities Amped team has been hard at work planning and designing opportunities for our youth to stay connected and academically engaged even as we socially distance. Our commitment to advance transformative learning through human connection, civic engagement, and youth voice matters now more than ever, and we are excited to share with you the ways that we are continuing to honor those values!
Our first step during the week of March 16th was to survey the youth we serve. Based on nearly one hundred responses thus far, we've learned:
We also held several online "listening sessions" to give our community a place to check in and express their needs and ideas in person (well, in virtual person). Based on this information gathering, we are setting up the following responses at this time:
Online Healing Circles for Youth Online “Circle Families” of ten Baton Rouge public school youth and at least two Humanities Amped staff or adult volunteers have begun meeting this week! With the support of certified peer specialist Tonja Myles, these groups will meet twice a week online to provide an outlet for youth to be in community with one another and trusted adults.
Online Arts, Civic Engagement, and College Access Workshop Series
This week we will begin enrolling Baton Rouge public school youth in workshops focusing on civic engagement, college access, and the arts. These workshops are designed collaboratively between youth, adult staff, and Amped Instructional Specialist Destiny Cooper, and, like circles, will meet either once or twice a week online.
Referral to Resources and Crisis Intervention We have begun reaching out to youth who indicated that they have pressing material needs and are helping those youth and their households to find and navigate available resources. We know from our experience working with youth year-round that young people are more likely to disclose needs and ask for help when they are connected in a network of trusting relationships, so we are preparing to support youth as those needs arise. We will also work with community partners to identify gaps in resources that we hear from youth and advocate for those needs to be filled by other community agencies.
As we roll out this programming in response to COVID-19, we will work with a wide network of educators, volunteers, youth, and community partners to be emergent and responsive to the needs of our Humanities Amped youth: our central focus remains ensuring that our students experience connection and engagement in healthy communities that can support their needs for development and well-being.
If you know any young people who would benefit from this engaging new programming, direct them to the registration form on our website (we have a great list of resources there, too). Don’t delay--circle spots are filling up and workshops begin next week!
As always, if you would like to support our work financially, please visit the support page on our website.
Be sure to stay connected by following us on social media, and be on the lookout for our showcase of student work!
Humanities Amped community, you did it! Together we reached and exceeded our fundraising goal, coming in at just over $71,000! We are overwhelmed by your generous support of the Humanities Amped mission to #AmplifyHope in Baton Rouge, and we are so grateful to get to do this work with you!
Because of your investment we will be able to:
Thank you for choosing to amplify hope with us--let's keep hope alive together.
Ms. Harrison's "Unique World Changers" are working together to improve school climate from the inside out! This class of Humanities Amped 8th graders at Westdale Middle School meet weekly to define the values they want their school community to live by, and they're starting with themselves. In the restorative justice circle that Ms. Harrison & Mrs. Cooper led at Westdale on Friday, November 1st, students sat in a circle with a centerpiece in the middle, passed the talking piece around as they opened with a poem entitled "Brave Spaces," and then reflected on the values they've chosen for themselves.
The students were asked to reflect on the values they've been living up to individually and as a group, which one they've been struggling to live up to, and also to imagine what is possible for their larger school community if they live up to their values. A deep conversation ensued about how changing ourselves is always the first step to changing the world. Students spoke honestly about the need to cultivate self-respect and the challenges of striving for achievement while also changing their learning environments together. As one student so eloquently explained, "I say achievement, because if the people around me aren't growing, I can't leave them behind. We've got to do it together!" The last student to speak into the circle summed up the group's mission: "The way that kids are, they follow what everybody else is doing. If we consistently live by these values, we can show everybody a new way to live."
Since these reflections, Ms. Harrison's students have agreed on a purpose statement:
Harrison's Unique World Changers' purpose is to inspire everyone at Westdale to contribute to a positive school culture through our leadership, integrity, and commitment to making a difference.
To meet this goal, the class has identified five action steps as a guide for their work next semester:
1. Demonstrate integrity in classrooms and all other school spaces.
2. Lead circles in 6th grade classrooms first and then 7th followed by 8th grade classrooms.
3. Lead role-playing activities for 8th, 7th, then 6th grade students.
4. Promote and support what is already happening at Westdale.
5. Evaluate how well we are achieving our purpose through these activities; reflect, and adjust.
Through their commitment to developing a positive school culture, Ms. Harrison's Unique World Changers are demonstrating what it means to amplify hope. If you would like to amplify hope along with us during this season of giving, please visit paypal.me/amplifyhope. Our fundraising goal is within reach because of your support!
Before joining Humanities Amped in the 10th grade, Jaden felt disconnected, like her voice didn’t matter, as though she could do very little to make the world a better place. Looking back, she reflects on how she first felt in Humanities Amped: “I thought it was silly. How could I transform the world, when I could barely transform myself?” Now in her senior year of high school, Jaden says, “I’m a lot different now. They taught me that if you want something to change, you have to change it yourself.” Now Jaden works every day to change the world around her. In her Amped English class, she reads articles and writes a personal narrative about invisible disabilities as part of her action-research project. At lunch, she meets with her Amped Dreamkeeper college mentor, a first-generation college student herself, who helps Jaden with college applications. After school, she works as an inaugural member of the Amped Youth Leadership Council, and in her free time, she attends our Fresh Heat teen open mic, where she moved the crowd in November with her poem about preventing youth suicide. At seventeen, Jaden is connected, hopeful, and confident that her voice matters. “Humanities Amped taught me to transform the world,” Jaden explains. “I did. I still am. And after everything that I’ve learned, I will never stop.”
Can you imagine what would be possible if every middle and high school student in East Baton Rouge Public Schools felt the way that Jaden does? The mission of Humanities Amped is to amplify human connection, youth voice, and civic engagement in public schools. Now in our sixth year, we train and support a network of 28 Amped Educators, reaching 1,000 students in five high-poverty public middle and high schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. Amped classrooms receive curriculum and coaching geared toward civic engagement and youth well-being along with in-class support from our Humanities Amped staff and volunteers. Students benefit from our Forward Arts poetry workshops & events, Dreamkeepers college access mentorship program, fall & spring conferences showcasing student research and community engagement, and our upcoming Educators Rising after-school academy.
We believe that hope is an investment that multiplies. Recently, Tricia Sanchez generously posed a matching challenge. If we can raise $35,000 by January 31, 2020, she will match your donation dollar for dollar, doubling your investment! Every day, we ask our youth to courageously match all that we invest in them. Thus far, returns on that investment look like a 22% increase in graduation rates for students in Amped classrooms and a 20% increase on state tests for students in Amped classes for two years in a row compared to their peers who are not in Amped classes. Most importantly, they look like youth making their own investment, as Jaden has, in the life-long project of transforming the world around them, as well as challenging themselves to always strive to be better. Please visit paypal.me/amplifyhope or the Support tab on our website to invest in our vision to provide every student with an Amped education. We exist because of your support!