What is Rites of Passage?
Rites of Passage is a program designed to develop youth and young adults to become leaders in the Black community. To look to the future, participants need to understand the past. Therefore, the 11-week curriculum is centered on research into African people, traditions and rituals since ancient times.
The Rites of Passage was developed by the Cultural Wellness Center, an organization that uses culture to improve public health and develop culturally based solutions to systemic barriers created by racism and poverty. “In order for Black men to move ahead and become leaders—to become the backbone of their community—they need to recover the culturally grounded manhood that was lost during enslavement,” said Elder Atum Azzahir, executive director of the Cultural Wellness Center. “Black male culture has become reactionary to life experiences under the dominant system, instead of one grounded in our cultural practices.”
Throughout the past five years, many Change Inc. leaders have gone through the Rites of Passage program. Through Change Inc.’s partnership with the Cultural Wellness Center, our Director of Community Solutions, Corey Byrd, has completed a train-the-trainer session of the program under Minkara Tezet from the Cultural Wellness Center and can now co-facilitate the Rites of Passage program for Change Inc. staff and participants.
Most recently, Corey and Minkara co-facilitated the Rites of Passage program for all Change Inc. Crossroads staff members. Here are excerpts of a recent interview between Change Inc. Communication Specialist, Katie Cudnowski, with Corey as he reflects about this experience and his own Rites of Passage journey.
KC: What is the significance of Rites of Passage?
CB: Rites of Passage is a cultural African American plight, a passage that that is utilized by those taking part. In the program, participants journey down the passage to take a deep look at the African American culture and go back to the times of slavery and talk about what took place from slavery up until today. They then attempt to understand who they are as a people prior to slavery. Together, Rites of Passage participants and I identify the problems, the concerns, the issues, the awareness, what they know, and the history of African Americans as a whole. We also look at their relationships with people of different colors and cultures in order to gain understanding of certain situations they’ve gone through.
KC: Why does Rites of Passage matter?
CB: There’s an old saying, “In order to know where you're going, you have to know where you come from.” It can seem as if the only Black experience an African American person in America has comes from slavery. If we look at a Black person’s experience from a different perspective and as being one culture and being one people, we know their history expands far beyond this. Slavery is the worst thing that ever took place for a black person in America. Through Rites of Passage, African American Black people are able to examine and work through who they are beyond slavery.
KC: Why does Rites of Passage matter to staff at Change Inc.?
CB: There are a lot of members of the staff at Change Inc. that are people of color. Once participants, which include some members of Change Inc.’s staff, go through the Rites of Passage they will be able to learn if and where the Native Americans or Latino Americans come in as part of the African American plight. They can learn about different cultures and how they played a part in the story of African Americans. Participants can learn where and how the connection between the White American and the Black American came into contact through slavery.
There are two staff who are White that have been involved with Rites of Passage and they have a different perspective on things. These staff have “wow” moments and there is a lot of sadness because our group is talking about actions their White ancestors committed against our Black ancestors. It’s not easy to hear on either end.
On another note, my last name is Byrd. I was able to use Rites of Passage to find out that my heritage goes back to Senator Byrd's plantation in Virginia. Sometimes I think about who would I have been if I weren’t Senator Byrd’s property? As a group we think about how people could justify having other people as property, and what the mindset and the psyche of the individuals that held people as property was like. Rites of Passage looks at these questions along with the good, the bad, and the ugly situations between cultures and opens these up for discussion, which is invaluable to our staff.
KC: Who is Rites of Passage’s intended audience and why does it matter to them?
CB: While the current Rites of Passage program is for African Americans, we have brought in individuals from other cultures so that they can have an awareness and understanding of what Black people have gone through and are going through. It also allows African American individuals to be able to talk about the hurt and the pain and share things that they may not have had the platform with which to share otherwise. Eventually, I hope to put on a Rites of Passage for all cultures. Perhaps one to take Hmong Americans, Native Americans, or Latino Americans down their Rites of Passage culture journey. There could also be one for the Caucasian American because they have a Rites of Passage as well, though very different from other ethnicities.
Rites of Passage is more than a gathering of individuals. Rites of Passage is an opportunity to unpack an individual’s entire sense of being. Through the leadership of qualified individuals such as Corey, local African American Black community members recount their ancestry and all of the things that make up who they are today as a people and as an individual. This offers participants the unique chance to connect with their past and learn how to shape the future.
If you are interested in joining or learning more about the Rites of Passage program, please contact Corey Byrd at email@example.com.
Thank you to the Minneapolis Foundation for supporting two cohorts of the Rites of Passage program in 2022. We look forward to sharing stories of this journey in the future.
Last fall, students from GAP School were presented with a unique learning opportunity. Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts was offering classes to students as part of Project for Pride in Living's LEAP (Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential) program. These classes would let students experience glass art techniques such as flame throwing, among others.
Five students attended the first class in September to learn about flame and glassblowing which included creating their own marble and straw. Soon after, there was another opportunity from Foci for youth to sign up for a series of workshops at their studio. Two GAP School students applied and were selected to participate, Izaiah Getahun and Moncies Franco.
The students attended classes at the studio once a week for a few months. Before the classes ended, Foci invited both students to take part in additional set of classes. The directors and mentors at the school were so impressed with the students that they began searching for funding so their participation could continue. Izaiah’s and Moncies’ hard work and enthusiasm in particular really stood out to the leaders at Foci.
Towards the end of the school year, Foci encouraged both students to apply to Expanding Horizons, a hands-on glass arts program hosted by the Corning Museum of Glass in New York over the summer. To apply, a significant amount of class hours would need to be completed. The program was a master level class and would give the opportunity to be mentored by master level glass artists and learn more about how glass museums operate around the world.
Grants were secured so that the students could take classes to provide them with the required experience should they be chosen for the program. Moncies continued classes into the spring and was accepted into the program.
After a total of 21 classes, Moncies and his mentor from Foci made their way to New York. The two spent time exploring the museum, learning from experts in the field, as well as meeting other aspiring artists and glass blowers. Moncies performed a demo in front of a live audience that was also broadcast live onto screens throughout the museum for visitors to watch.
Moncies says he learned a great deal about glass blowing and also about being in the artist field. He dreams of creating his own brand and selling his art one day. These opportunities gave him a glimpse into how to advance his artistry and how to sell his art. He says that he learned that his own experience, talent, time, and skills are important and that he must be careful not to sell himself short. He also learned that having a community around him and networking will be very important going forward.
Both Moncies and Izaiah are continuing classes with Foci and look forward to honing their skills and building their confidence in glass work and beyond. They also showcased their skills through demonstrations at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.
This opportunity would not have been made possible without the support of our partner, LEAP. Designed to provide employment and educational opportunities to young people facing some of the greatest challenges in adulthood, Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential provides young people with the tools they need to succeed. National and local philanthropies support the initiative, which is partially funded by a grant from the Social Innovation Fund, an agency of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
We are excited to share that 2022 GAP School graduate, Hay Dree Yer, was one of eight students awarded the annual Larry Lucio Scholarship.
Hay Dree is a Karen refugee and was born in Kawthoolei. When he was eight years old, he fled to Thailand because of the Burmese Military invasion. It was necessary to flee to avoid persecution and death because of his ethnicity. When he first moved to Thailand (Mae La Oon Refugee Camp), he started studying at a 4th grade level and eventually completed 12th grade and graduated. After high school, he went to Shalom Arts and Leadership College for one year. He was unable to continue his studies here because he was finally granted his visa to immigrate to the United States.
He moved to Iowa in the U.S. in the fall of 2020 and lived there for six months. He then decided to move to Minnesota in order to be closer to family and begin studying at GAP School. He started studying at GAP in April 2021 to secure his American high school diploma with the intention of attending college. Even though he had to overcome many obstacles, especially his fear of speaking in English, he is proud to have graduated with his high school diploma from GAP School on June 9th, 2022.
Hay Dree shared that his life in his home country compared to in the U.S. is totally different. In his home country, not everyone has the opportunity to go to school and it’s extremely difficult to get a higher education. In the refugee camp it is illegal to leave and seek work, therefore it is hard to pay for college. Since coming to the U.S., his mind and opinions have been expanded. He sees that there are opportunities available for everyone, and he is grateful for the opportunities available to him. When Hay Dree was living in the refugee camp it was difficult to imagine a future that included a college education. But, he has come to realize that the future is now and that he has the high school diploma, strength, and wisdom to pursue it.
Hay Dree is involved in church youth activities such as practicing songs, choirs, and fundraising for IDP (internally displaced people). He also did volunteer work during his time at GAP School, which included tree planting for the city of St. Paul, restoring buildings for Dodge Nature Center, removing invasive plants with Bailey’s Nurseries, and fulfilling AmeriCorps hours though building a green home for low-income families.
Hay Dree will be attending Dakota County Technical College this fall. He was a part of GAP School’s construction pathway and plans to pursue a career in architecture. Hay Dree has spent time learning about sustainability and hopes to design green buildings for his community to help protect the environment. He says his ultimate goal is to improve his English and to be able to give back to his community.
Congratulations to Hay Dree and the other students awarded the Larry Lucio Scholarship this year!
The Larry Lucio Scholarship was established in September of 1997. Larry Lucio is a retired administrator of both the St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Schools with strong ties to the West Side. Scholarship winners from other local high schools include Amy Alarcon, Oscar Palchizaca, Zoe Riordan, Eh Htee Shu, Htoo Law Moo, Tala Kim, and Antonio Hernandez.
In order to apply for the Larry Lucio Scholarship a student must:
Past GAP School Recipients:
Cristina Sanchez Ortiz (2014)
Maria Ramirez (2012)
Sebastion Delgado (2008)
Ana Ramirez Reyes (2008)
Olga Diaz Lopez (2004)
Luis Garcia (2002)
Zaira Oronel (2000)
Severo Ramirez (2000)
Soledad Flores (1999)
On February 15th, Lisa Xiong, M.A., LMFT represented Change Inc. at the Mental Health Legislative Network press conference on children's mental health. Lisa shared how we have seen children increasingly struggling in schools. This is especially true for children from diverse communities as they are impacted even greater by the pandemic. Change Inc. and fellow providers are strained trying to meet the needs of children as wait lists for school-based mental health services grow. We hope that by sharing what we see everyday, we will help inform legislative action to invest in children's mental health across Minnesota.
You can read our full press statement, here.
Watch the full press conference below (Lisa begins speaking at 16:13).
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Minnesota awarded Change Inc. Mental Health Provider of the Year. This award is in recognition of our school-based mental health services, mentoring programs, community clinic, and community outreach programs Change Inc. provides across the Twin Cities.
"They have truly changed the lives of so many students and we thank them for their work,” said NAMI Minnesota board officer Mariah C. Owens.
To be recognized by NAMI, such a leader in the field of treatment of mental illness, is quite a boost to the morale of our staff- at a time when our own health and well-being is being challenged by the pandemic and other social, economic, and political crises. Recognition, affirmation, and appreciation can go a long way. We sincerely thank NAMI MN for this recognition.
Read more about this award in the news, here.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens) This phrase comes to mind when thinking about the 2019-20 school year.
After low enrollment due to an unsuccessful attempt at reviving a junior high program in 2018-19, the 2019-20 school year started strong in terms of enrollment and maintained high enrollment – even through the school closure caused by the pandemic in the 4th quarter of the year.
Change Inc.’s financial picture steadily improved over the course of the year due to increased enrollment, investments in operations and focus of agency/school leadership and Board of Directors on financial data and use of data-driven decision-making.
In March, 2020, schools were closed across Minnesota by order of the Governor in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. As with all other schools, GAP School staff “pivoted” to distance learning and in a matter of days had curriculum readied to be delivered through use of technology/internet. It was understood that distance learning would not be feasible for all students given the “digital divide” – lack of technology or access to the internet. GAP School identified two goals for the final two months of the school year: EQUITY – all students would have access to learning materials and teachers and ENGAGEMENT – keeping students and families connected to GAP School was viewed as the critical intervention.
We succeeded at both goals due to our collective ability to be gritty and nimble! We organized teams to deliver learning packets along with meal boxes to all students at their homes. This provided staff with the opportunity to see (socially distanced) students and parents, to assess for basic needs supports, and to support students to keep persisting in the distance learning environment. 145 students began Quarter 4 and 145 students were still enrolled and attending at the end of the quarter and school year. The average daily attendance rate during distance learning was 78% (many schools/districts reported between 50-60% engagement of students in distance learning.)
GAP School held a virtual Graduation on June 9 (posted on our Facebook page) for 72 graduates.
On May 25, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers and the cities burned. Black Lives Matter protests in 2000 cities and 60 countries is the largest protest movement in history. These events and concerns have also shaped the experience of staff, students and families in the 2019-20 school year. David Brooks, opinion writer, NY Times ,June 25, 2020, “5 Epic Crises All At Once” stated that we are dealing with health, economic, racial equity, social justice and political crises at the same time. And, they are all interrelated.
As GAP School staff, students and families prepare for the next normal and plan for three scenarios for school re-opening Fall 2020, we remain steadfast in our belief that “relationships are the key to change” and we will continue to uphold equity and engagement in our teaching and learning.
Read more in our Summary of Progress 2019-20 for the MNSAA School Strategic Plan (2015-2021).