For its executive director, Maryum Rasool, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV) is the physical manifestation of positive community engagement. “The community support for our organization has been overwhelming,” she says. “The community here believes in Flint and so do we. We all want the city to succeed. Everyone is tired of the negative stories about Flint. We know what our challenges are. Let’s be positive and focus on solutions.” It’s this positive outlook and the community involvement that has made SBEV a safe and successful place for students all across the city to come and find new opportunities to grow.
Located in the old Dewey Elementary building, SBEV was founded in 2015 when local neurosurgeon, Dr. Jawad Shah, saw a need for a community center in the city’s North end. The organization provides after-school and summer programs and was established with the mission of cultivating leadership capacity and bringing equality of opportunity to Flint’s youth. “We firmly believe that investing in young people is the key to creating compelling and lasting change in our community,” Rasool states. “Hearing the strategic plan and mission of the organization is what got me interested. We want all Flint youth to have the same opportunity as every youth outside the city.”
With funding from the Ruth Mott Foundation and support from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the Hagerman Foundation and other community groups, SBEV has developed partnerships and programs that add value beyond that of the Flint Community School system. “We identify a gap in service and we either develop our own program or we find other already established programs to partner with,” says Rasool. “There’s so many great programs in the city of Flint. Everyone is willing to help – every time we reach out to someone, they always come through. Mr. Bruce Bradley at Tapology works with us and he provided a whole summer program for the kids free of charge. U of M pop-up was here working with the children. Michigan State University Extension and Hurley help us with our nutrition program. We have great funders, donors and partners.”
SBEV developed its programs according to the desire of the community – a sort of outside-in plan. “We asked the community what they wanted,” informs Rasool. “We got an ice cream truck, drove around the community and handed out surveys and free ice cream. Our programs come from an approach of meeting the community’s needs as they are expressed, not as we see them.”
The SKY Program (Skills and Knowledge for Youth) was created as an after-school tutoring program for students struggling with common STEM courses. The emphasis of SKY is on improving academics in Flint. “We seek greatness in everything that we do,” Rasool shares. “It’s important to give every kid a skill-set that will help them be successful in any career.” SBEV employs a behavioral therapist who communicates with parents and teachers as to the academic performance of the students.
The School of Champions Sports Academy and Gifted Program provides instruction in athletics and elite training. Some of the sports offered for boys and girls include: basketball, swimming, bowling, cross country, wrestling, boxing, gymnastics and, new to SBEV, tennis. “School of Champions is the sports aspect, but in order to participate in our sports programs, kids have to be a part of our educational programs, also,” says Rasool. “Sure, athletics teaches great skills, but education is the core of everything we do. The education aspect of our programs is mandatory and the kids love it.” Community Activities and Athletics Manager, Linnell McKenney, heads the School of Champions. “We’re not simply bringing kids here to get them off the street, we are bringing them here to tutor them and give them homework help,” she says. “SBEV is about giving children the opportunity to tap into their gifts – whether its athletics, music, art, dance or whatever. We expose them to new experiences in a structured, positive and safe environment. We give them the opportunity to dream again. How can kids find themselves if they don’t have the opportunity? Every human being on this earth has something they can be great at.”
“I applaud the efforts of the city of Flint for everything that they are doing. I feel as a community, we are making strides to move forward. The volunteerism in Flint is impactful and I see us all heading in the right direction.”
Maryum Rasool, Executive Director
Last summer, Communications and Program Manager, Jiquanda Johnson created the News Movement program, designed to teach the elements of journalism to kids in grades 6-12. “The kids learn photography, newswriting, videography and graphic design. They also go on field trips and meet other journalists and mentors,” states Johnson. “Civic engagement is also an important part of this program. Over the summer, the kids took a field trip to the State Capital, where they met with our Representative. We also work with other organizations. Recently, five students participated in a national gun violence project with the Miami Herald. They all got bylines! I was so excited for them.”
Other SBEV programs include: a music program coupled with Bangtown Productions in Flint, an adult literacy and English as Second Language (ESL) program, the onsite Vera B. Rison Technology Center computer lab, dance with Heart of Worship studio, art with Gallery on the GO, robotics and technology with the students of Kettering University, sewing, nutrition and culinary and entrepreneurial skills with Charma’s Organic Kitchen.
The community has not only come together to develop programs and teach children, but also to give kids a place to go that they can be proud of. “When I started, one of my first goals was to rehab and get our building up to par. I wanted to join the Flint trend of creating spaces that are beautiful,” says Rasool. “Kids are growing up in areas with abandoned buildings and burned out homes. These kids deserved a top-of-the line facility in their own neighborhood.” The community immediately set out to help, with volunteers showing up to give their time to the building. The neighborhood helps maintain it, and Lear Corporation provided workers to do landscaping and painting. “For our kids, self-esteem is a constant challenge,” Rasool adds. “They are being told that they live below poverty, that they are all poisoned by lead. That kind of negativity can affect learning. We want to combat that and let them know that they can do anything. We want them to know that they are great.”
The summer of 2018 proved to members of SBEV that the work they are doing is important. “We expected around 150 kids to sign up for our summer program – that’s what we budgeted for,” informs Jiquanda Johnson. “We ended up with 250 and had to find community partners to help us take all of them in! It showed us all how much we are needed here.” To date, SBEV sees an average of 300 students per day. The time spent with the students equates to approximately 75 days of school instruction. SBEV also provides family fun days and a community room where they host events and charity giveaways for residents.
If you would like to volunteer at SBEV, sign your child up for one of the many exciting programs, donate, or you just want to know more about what the organization has to offer, visit SBEV.org, or call 810.893.6098. A mandatory background check will be conducted for all volunteer applications.
Photography by Kayce McClure