An open conversation about race in youth organizations

An open conversation about race in youth organizations

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte have served as a home away from home for kids for the past 85 years. Eight different locations are set up strategically to serve at-risk communities.

Right now the clubs are also a place where important conversations about race are coming up, and staff members are navigating how to address it with children.

“We offer programs in academic success, citizenship leadership, arts, sports and recreation and a variety of activities that kids can participate in at our clubs,” Executive Director Marty Clary said.

The staff is prepared to handle the conversations that are coming up surrounding racial injustice in our country.

“Club staff are very representative of the kids that we serve,” he said. “When questions come up about ‘why is this happening in the community,' our staff are trained to help them talk through and work through and work with their families on how to navigate the questions the kids have about what is going on.”

They want kids to feel safe.

“The areas that we serve in have the potential of being dangerous and having crime right outside the doors,” he said. “We have a club in public housing where there are fights and gunfire. Those areas are not safe for kids to be out on the streets.”

They also want them to be heard.

“It’s key for them to have role models that are not only having the same experience as them, but come from the same neighborhoods as them,” he said.

Felicia Cohen has spent more than two decades working at The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte.

“I’ve been with the Salvation Army 24 years now this past May, and I just enjoy what I do,” she said. “I love the kids, I love see them coming back telling me what they learned, what they got out of the program. Just seeing their faces, being around the community and being a part of their lives.”

She’s not just their camp counselor, she’s their confidante.

That is clear now more than ever, after the death of George Floyd.

“They have conversations come up, especially with the video,” she said. “[They say] what happened and why it happened and are these guys going to be prosecuted? They want to know is this going to happen to me? What should I do? Some of the little ones don’t know what’s going on but a lot of the older ones are kind of concerned. Especially our older teen boys I mean what if that was me? What should I do in that situation?”

She said it’s hard to hear that.

“It makes me nervous,” she said. “It scares me a lot because I have a 17-year-old nephew myself. It concerns me as well as his mother, that something like this could happen to him.”

It spurs conversations about police.

“We try to tell them cooperate as much as you can with the police,” she said. “Just be respectful, don’t try to jump out at them or be rude. Just take your time and do what they ask you to do. Things will be ok.”

Their pain is everywhere, including in their art. The kids created a banner that says “Black Lives Matter” with drawings and phrases that describe the fight for racial justice.

“When it first happened they were very emotional about it, we had kids in here crying,” she said. “They didn’t quite understand. But I think with our conversations it kind of helped ease the pain a little bit.”

She helps them through it, but she also says they help her.

″Just seeing the way some of them respond, they have hope,” she said. “They think the situation with George Floyd is really bringing about a change. Some kids in some families are doing the protests, and they feel like it’s making a difference. Their voices are being heard now.”

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