World-changers: MLK Inspires Erie Teens to Serve Others
Youth Leadership Institute of Erie encourages young people to follow King's example
To change the world, follow the example of the late Dr. Martin Luther King.
That's the message that the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) of Erie imparts to young people by encouraging them to express themselves, perform random acts of kindness, and participate in community service to make positive change.
Winners of YLI's annual "Day of Expression Project," which is tied into the Martin Luther King holiday, are being announced in this issue of the Erie Reader. Teens have additional opportunities to be change-makers on Monday, Jan. 15, the King holiday, and during the months leading up to Global Youth Service Day activities in late April.
For the "Day of Expression" contest, high school students were invited to explore the question "How can I change the world?" by submitting an original painting, drawing, photo, video, spoken- or written-word entry.
We are pleased to announce the names of the three winners, all seniors at Collegiate Academy. All three chose art to express themselves. Tahjgere Morgan won the grand prize of $250 for "Wrestle for Equality." Runners-up are Nicholas Groemminger, for "Flipping the Coin to a Bright Future," and Anthony D'Albora, for "Drive for Success." Each will be awarded $150. Erie Art Museum volunteers judged the entries.
Groemminger said that he used oil pastels for the bright colors in his artwork and chalk pastels for the darker side. His love of animation also influenced his work. "I tend to try to make art that has movement in it," he said. "When people see this piece, I want them to think about how perspective can affect how we see different people and how they are treated," Groemminger said. "When someone is being treated unfairly, sometimes it is hard to understand what they are feeling. If someone takes a moment to see things from their perspective, we can achieve an understanding and more fair treatment much more easily."
The Youth Leadership Institute announced the winners from their recent high school art contest, the "Day of Expression Project," which asked artists to explore the question: how can I change the world? (From left) Winner Tahjgere Morgan with "Wrestle for Equality" and runners-upNicholas Groemminger for "Flipping the Coin to a Bright Future" and Anthony D'Albora for "Drive For Success."
Perspective can also be broadened by accepting new challenges for yourself, by giving back to others and by expanding your knowledge of history, according to those involved with YLI. Cori Edwards became executive program manager for YLI on Aug. 21, after working in early childhood education for more than 20 years and, most recently, serving as director of the Eastside YMCA.
"The Youth Leadership Institute offered the opportunity to reach outside and inspire youth to achieve their goals and to collaborate with the community, young and old," she said. Edwards had a "rough childhood," including getting pregnant at age 15. "I was on the track where it could go either way," she said. "Once I found my thing, I was okay." Her "thing" included earning a master's degree in education from Gannon University, but she knows that young people and their parents face challenges while searching for the right career path and figuring out how to make that career a reality through additional education.
"Youth Leadership Institute takes the resources that are out there and offers them to students in a way that is accessible," she said. One way that YLI does that is through its Life Experience Activities Program (LEAP), which allows students from eighth grade on up to "test out careers" by spending three days at a participating business or university. LEAP programs this semester allow teens to learn about careers in cosmetology, finance, medicine, and intelligence studies, to name a few.
Michael Coleman III, 20, is the youth engagement coordinator for YLI. A graduate of Mercyhurst Prep, Coleman is majoring in business at the Erie County Community College and will graduate this spring. After working in retail and fast food jobs, he decided to go to the community college "because I wanted something that could start my business career," he said.
Both staff members are working hard to spread the word that YLI has received a lead agency grant from the Youth Service America organization to increase youthful participation in the MLK Day of Service and during Global Youth Service Days in April. "The goal is to give Erie County a voice for youth, coming together for one common goal, to say 'Erie County cares,'" said Edwards.
YLI wants to enlist at least 750 young people to pledge to do a "random act of kindness" on the King holiday. Participating students have a chance to win one of four $50 gift cards. Submitting a photo as part of the documentation will give them an additional chance to win a gift card. "We're taking the philanthropy of Martin Luther King. He served. Service was at the root of who Martin Luther King was," Edwards said. "We want to make sure our county is reflected as a county that helps."
Edwards, Coleman, and Edison Nicholson, founder and CEO of YLI, were all born after Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. But all three have found ways to learn about the late civil rights leader's life and to honor his ongoing influence in Erie and the world.
Edwards remembers being taught "very specific things" about MLK and questions why students weren't given a broader picture when she was in school. "Eventually I realized that community service was a huge part (of his life)," she said.
"We can do a better job of educating our youth." Coleman agreed that when it comes to King's story and the civil rights movement, "There was a lot more happening than what we learned in school." His 90-year-old great-grandmother participated in marches and visited the MLK home in Atlanta, which is now a museum. She helped him to gain a fuller portrait of King, he said.
"King was a drum major for many upcoming young, vibrant people who want to serve," said Nicholson, who was born 11 months after King was killed. His list of local leaders who emulated King includes the Rev. E.F. Smith, Erma Lindsey, Mildred and Howard Horton, Bobby Harrison, Ernest Denny, Alex Thompson and the 10 Black officers who were added to the Erie Bureau of Police in 1974 by court order. "They all came out of this movement. They catapulted Erie into a new era of thinking."
Nicholson also includes his grandfather, the Rev. Samuel Ward, a minister in the AME Zion church, as a strong influence on him and on the Erie community as well. Dr. King was also a person of faith, he said. "It is indeed individuals of faith that are going to change the world," Nicholson said.
He then shared one of his favorite MLK quotes: "Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
To register for the random act of kindness, visit tinyurl.com/YLIMLK
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 814-520-5565.
Liz Allen can be reached at email@example.com