From the outset, Sojourners sought to develop a Capstone Project that would broaden the discussion of diversity among upstate youth. Our team believes that achieving trusting interpersonal relations, which bridge racial, economic, gender, religious, ethnic, and other cultural and social boundaries is critical to building peace. Providing a forum where young people may discover, understand, welcome and celebrate the similarities and differences among people will serve to provide new pathways and real opportunities for sustainable inclusive communities.
After considering various youth program options, Sojourners looked to the forum that brought our team together. Since its inception in 2003, the Riley Institute Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI) has created a critical mass of leaders that now serve as champions and supporters of dialogue and collaboration around diversity issues.
With that in mind, Sojourners initiated a conversation with the Riley Institute about developing a Youth Diversity Leaders Initiative (YDLI). The team believed the discussions, case studies and conversations experienced by adults through the Diversity Leaders Initiative should also and perhaps more importantly, be experienced by youth. The team also believed that the people who have successfully delivered the DLI program for adults should also be engaged in the development of an equally successful program for youth.
Therefore, a framework for the Youth Diversity Leaders Initiative was developed by Benny Walker, Juan Johnson and the Sojourners. The concept of a YDLI presented many options for the program’s setting, timing, format, age of participants and budget. The options were fully vetted by team members and the final program was developed. The recruitment of youth participants and fundraising was managed by the Sojourners while the program content and format was managed by the Riley Institute.
The first YDLI was held at Furman University’s Younts Center on November 21, 2009. The program was held between 8 am and 1pm with 19 high school students from upstate high schools. Juan Johnson facilitated the program. Since this initial program was four hours in length, the day’s agenda was tight and focused on providing an understanding of diversity and the issues in our society, case study discussions and an opportunity for good conversations around the observations and experiences of our participants.
Sojourners believe that the YDLI initiated through this Capstone Project, along with the evaluation comments from the participants, can serve as the foundation for an on-going program for the Riley Institute to consider. The experience was rewarding for all of the participants and any future program, Sojourners believe, will evolve and provide meaningful and innovative opportunities for the youth of South Carolina to build new bridges that will reduce conflict and improve human relations for future generations.
“If we are to reach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with children.”