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East Oakland festival celebrates youth leadership

on September 28, 2010

On Saturday, Youth Uprising, a not-for-profit organization that develops young leaders, celebrated its third annual For A Safe Town (FAST) festival in East Oakland in an effort to promote peace. Bounce houses, basketball tournaments, skating demos, DJs, and the savory smells of a free BBQ chicken lunch attracted a couple hundred people from the community.

Marvin West, one of Youth Uprising’s mental health therapists, used part of the day as an opportunity to share some healing words in front of the crowd by reading poetry he had written. His poetry, he said, is about “finding positive role models and calling young black men in an essence of being who they are.”

Aaron Smith, another one of the six on-site mental health therapists, said his job pushes him to challenge common perspectives in his community by showing his young clients how to view life from a different angle. Encouraging young people to defy stereotypes and embrace education can be difficult, not only because of the bad economy, he said, but because the young people he works with don’t always perceive their worth, or their opportunities.

Youth Uprising opened its doors five years ago, but member Kamanlai Fungula, 18, didn’t start coming until two years ago. Today he spends a lot of time playing on the basketball courts and making music in the center’s studio. “It’s a safe environment,” he said.

As the afternoon heated up, the people watching kids play in the park socialized and relaxed in the shade of its trees, as the children freely jumped, laughed, and skated; the adults stopped the fun only long enough to wipe away the sticky remains of ice cream cones from a few mouths.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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