Black Swan Academy staff serve evening meals to young students, waiting for the "We All Rise When Black Youth Thrive" Rally on Freedom Plaza on May 13 at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest D.C. (Roy Lewis/The 老澳门开奖网 Informer)
Black Swan Academy staff serve evening meals to young students, waiting for the "We All Rise When Black Youth Thrive" Rally on Freedom Plaza on May 13 at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest D.C. (Roy Lewis/The 老澳门开奖网 Informer)

Word in Black is a collaboration of 10 of the nation鈥檚 leading Black publishers that frames the narrative and fosters solutions for racial inequities in America.

Throughout much of this budget season, the young people of visited D.C. council members鈥 offices and testified before the Committee of the Whole in demand of priorities outlined in their , including timely school repairs, violence interruption expansion, youths鈥 access to public benefits, and expansion of affordable housing.聽

These items, and more, came to the forefront once again on Monday evening during a rally that the Black Swan Academy youth hosted in Freedom Plaza 鈥 right across the street from the John A. Wilson Building where council members are currently deciding how to allocate $21 billion in local funds for Fiscal Year 2025. 

Desiray Knight, Black Swan Academy鈥檚 middle school coordinator, watched closely as some of the young people she鈥檚 been mentoring since February took to the podium, recited poetry and advocated for social services they deemed essential in improving their quality of life. 

鈥淭hey鈥檙e starting to learn that they鈥檙e in control and they have power. It鈥檚 not always in adults鈥 hands,鈥 said Knight, 22. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e learning about the council members and their jobs. It鈥檚 about knowing who to go to for certain things. Talking about it gives young people closure without getting in trouble.鈥 

The presentations, Knight told The Informer, followed months of discussions and planning around what would eventually become the 2023 Black Youth Agenda. As she reflected on her experiences as a former Black Swan Academy youth, Knight identified mental health as one of the more pressing issues of the day for young people. 

鈥淲e鈥檙e fighting [to get] them in schools with people who are trained to deal with mental health,鈥 Knight said. 鈥淵oung people are overlooked when it comes to certain things. Black Swan Academy gives them the comfort zone to speak about how they feel and what they want to change. They鈥檙e going to be our leaders [so] their voices are very important.鈥 

The Youth Promote Their Agenda Before the Council 

Since 2013, Black Swan Academy has worked to acclimate Black youth in the District to civic engagement. The nonprofit鈥檚 2023 Black Youth Agenda has four parts 鈥 Hear Us, Heal Us; Where Dreams Come Home; Keep It Clean, No More Truancy; and Safe Passage 4 Youth Passage. 

In addition to youth opportunities, these sections work to address: the expansion of childcare options for District residents, access to utility assistance, timely and quality public housing repairs, financial education courses in the K-12 curriculum, emergency funds for student toiletries, food and clothes, personal hygiene machines, rehabilitation programs, and increase of support for out-of-school time programming. 

On May 3, 16 Black Swan Academy members were scheduled to testify before the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole during its marathon budget hearing. Each young person who engaged D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson provided testimony that merged their lived experiences with research that contextualized the issues they faced. 

Marcus Williams, a junior at Anacostia High School in Southeast, urged the Committee of the Whole to fund upgrades to apartments like where he and his family lives. 

鈥淚t makes me upset to live in the place I live now because everything is falling apart and everything around Ward 8, including the buildings are old,鈥 said Marcus, 16. 鈥淚t鈥檚 sad that me and the people in my community have to go through this detriment with [there being] enough money for housing鈥 Not adjusting this issue can affect more people. Not just me and my family.鈥 

While speaking before Mendelson, K鈥檒ayah McCoy, a Black Swan Academy youth who attends the Social Justice School in Northeast, stood in solidarity with peers who don鈥檛 have adequate housing. 

鈥淪eeing homeless people on the street, especially children, makes me sad,鈥 K鈥檒ayah said. 鈥淚 got everything I could ask for and I feel like homeless youth should be treated the same as me鈥 They deserve housing, hygiene products and fresh clothes. I would also ask that you expand homeless shelters for youth [and] expand affordable housing access.鈥 

Meanwhile, Star Short, a Black Swan Academy youth organizer who attends Dunbar High School in Northwest, demanded resources that would make her school a clean and welcoming environment for her and her peers. 

鈥淚 envision a school where period products, spare clothes, and hygiene products like deodorant and toothpaste are available for all students,鈥 Starr said. 鈥 And the bathrooms are always stocked with soap and toilet paper. I want鈥onversation about personal hygiene [to be] a regular part of our interaction with our teachers and friends. I want there to be clean, cold refreshing water available to students [through] working water fountains  and working water bottle filling stations.鈥 

The Council Considers Some of the Youths’ Demands 

By the time youth from Black Swan Academy converged on Freedom Plaza on Monday, each council committee had already submitted budget recommendations addressing some of their demands. The D.C. Council鈥檚 Committee of the Whole partially restored funding for the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund while fully restoring the Community Schools program that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cut out of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education鈥檚 budget. 

The council鈥檚 Committee on Housing $6.9 to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, while putting in place stipulations intended to improve programmatic transparency. An additional $1.2 million investment expands permanent supportive housing to 43 more residents, while a $1.8 million enhancement expands homeless prevention services. For public housing residents, the D.C. Council鈥檚 Committee on Housing also funds building rehabilitation and maintenance. 

In the realm of behavioral health, the D.C. Council鈥檚 Committee on Health recommended the expansion of the School-Based Behavioral Health School Peer Educator Pilot for a second year with $325,000 from the Opioid Abatement Fund. The committee allocated an additional $300,000 for a new grant that provides childcare for pregnant parents and legal guardians in need of urgent medical treatment at a D.C.-based birthing hospital or facility. 

More than $1.4 million has also been allocated for the enhancement of the School Health Services Program, which enhances training for school nurses, health technicians, and staff while increasing access to telehealth services in school health suites. 

D.C. Councilmember Christina Henderson told The Informer that the allocation culminated a process that involved District residents, specifically those who lobbied council members for these investments. 

“The committee was pleased to hear at the budget oversight hearing that, after the program experienced high vacancies during the fall semester, 95% of school health suites are now staffed by trained health professionals at 40 hours per week,鈥 Henderson said. 鈥淭his is remarkable given that one year ago, only about half of schools had full-time staffing.”

Sam P.K. Collins has nearly 20 years of journalism experience, a significant portion of which he gained at The 老澳门开奖网 Informer. On any given day, he can be found piecing together a story, conducting...

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