From a young age, Ciera Daniel recognized the mass persecution of African American males in everyday life. She remembers constantly hearing the message that blacks were inferior to whites.
“I saw it throughout my school, in my community, on TV, and in magazines – everywhere. Even some of my family reinforced this idea,” says Daniel.
Constant persecution can cause more than just negative perceptions. For young black males, the accumulation of years of persecution and mistreatment from society can negatively affect ideas of self-worth, goals for the future and mental health. From as early as sixth grade, these perceptions start affecting development, says Daniel.
“Sixth-grade is the cusp of adolescence,” she says. “Kids start looking for acceptance from peers, evaluating who they are and the world around them. Some kids already have an idea of what they think they can accomplish in life.”
To help overcome these negative perceptions at a young age, Daniel established Young Kings’ Leadership Academy (YKLA). In partnership with City Springs Elementary School in East Baltimore, YKLA will facilitate free after-school programs for underserved black male middle-school students to cultivate them as leaders, illuminate their full potential and enhance a positive culture throughout the school and community.
Students in YKLA will participate in a 20-week program that explores ethics, sports, travel, media, social justice, technology, and culturally relevant texts. The program encourages students to become lifelong learners and transformational leaders that impact the culture of their school and the communities that they live in.
During the 20-week program, students will meet after school three days a week to work through what is known as the Seven Pillars of Excellence. These pillars include excellence in knowledge of self, thinking, reading, writing, speaking, imaging, and traveling.
Through these seven pillars, YKLA aims to increase rates of school attendance, create new learning experiences, develop cognitive skills that support college and career readiness, support students in leading initiatives that serve their school and community, and increase students’ self-efficacy.
This upcoming year, YKLA will serve 10 sixth-grade and 10 seventh-grade students at City Springs. OSI-Baltimore already has an extensive relationship with City Springs, where OSI partnered with the Baltimore Curriculum Project to pilot restorative practices in Baltimore City Schools more than 10 years ago.
“A single mother told me it was a prayer answered to have something meaningful that her son could do after school,” says Daniel. “She was worried about him idly being outside in a neighborhood that she felt was much less safe than the one she had recently moved from.”
Daniel hopes these relationships with community members will lead to wrap-around services, including mental health services, for students and their parents. She says next year’s programming will include 10 more students from the eighth grade class.
“This fellowship allows me to continue to build this program out full-time,” says Daniel. “I can also focus more on building relationships with community members who are working to make positive change in the city.”