An after-service conversation about the tragic Trayvon Martin incident inspired two long-time Plymouth Church members to establish Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice (EYEJ). Concerned with the prevalence of poverty level living environments and violence for many African-American children, the late June Antoine and Mai Moore organized with other Plymouth members, including Gloria Sturghill, Pamela Ford, Aisha Violette and Shaundra Cunningham, in 2013. As a connector between the community and children, EYEJ provides life skills and personal development tools for some of the most vulnerable youth in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District – sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

Parlaying a pre-existing 25-year relationship between Buckeye-Woodland of Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Plymouth Church, EYEJ built their Discussion Series.  The Discussion Series event features ten speakers broken out in groups (one African-American Clevelander and one non-African-American Clevelander) to speak with students about a variety of topics with a focus on increasing values and self-confidence.  More specifically, EYEJ divides the 6-8th graders by grade and gender.  Each individual group would then have a set of speakers with whom they could talk, role-play, and discuss topics ranging from exploring social and emotional pathways to finding resources (and how to ask for resources) to self-value to finance literacy topics.  In 2015, EYEJ earned full non-profit 501c3 tax status, which allowed it to access more schools throughout the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Our goal is to empower students by connecting them with a variety of professionals and leaders. Equal value is derived from both athlete and everyday persons. Personal circumstances, whether shared by a celebrity or an everyday person, educate and expose children to lessons of compassion and understanding. EYEJ firmly believes that it is also important for young children to have diverse role models in the community. Nurturing our youth in this way will help them become strong, successful self-valued leaders in the future.

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