Concerned about the prevalence of poverty-level living environments, the disconnect between society and resources, and the extent of violence among African-American children prompted Mai Moore and the late June Antoine to organize with other Plymouth Church UCC members, including Gloria Sturghill, Pamela Ford, Jan Larsen, Aisha Violette, and Shaundra Cunningham, in 2013.
EYEJ strives to connect the community and children to provide life skills and personal development tools for some of the most vulnerable youth, focusing on the Cleveland Metropolitan School District – sixth grade to age 25.
Parlaying a pre-existing 25-year relationship between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Plymouth Church, UCC EYEJ built their core program, the Discussion Series, now called YODJ: Youth Online Discussing Justice. The YODJ program features two adults from diverse backgrounds (typically an African-American person and one non-African-American person) partnering with a group of same-sex youth broken out in groups. Together, they engage on various relevant, everyday topics facing youth today with customized and copyrighted curriculum and emphases on empowering and becoming a self-valued leader.
Each group has a set of speakers with whom they can talk, role-play, and discuss topics including: toxic stress, conflict resolution, police-youth relationships, mental health, and exploring social and emotional pathways to heal and learn from each other – youth to adult, and adult to youth. In 2015, EYEJ earned a non-profit 501c3 tax status, which allowed it to access more schools, including the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Personal circumstances, whether shared by a celebrity or a relatable adult, educate and expose children to lessons of compassion and understanding. EYEJ is about being human. EYEJ firmly believes that it is also important for young children to have diverse role models in the community and to learn diverse perspectives. By nurturing, listening to, and embracing each other as individuals, EYEJ believes we can mold young people into internally strong, successful, self-valued leaders of tomorrow.
Cleveland is safer than only two percent of all cities in the United States.
Cleveland Metropolitan area ranks in the top 10 nationally for residents living in concentrated poverty.
Many of our youth are afraid of leaving their home sometimes, and do not feel comfortable calling the police for safety reasons.
40 percent of CMSD students are labeled “at-risk” of not graduating high school.
75% of our students are in a single parent household.
One of our neighbourhood school areas suffers from an epidemic of gun violence and is home to the largest population of sex offenders in Cleveland.
EYEJ is focused on building self-valued leaders
Education is the answer to many of our issues today.
We are a bridge to social justice.
We believe that education comes in many forms. We also believe that we need to teach young people to be strong and secure, internally and externally. Cleveland’s youth have a lot of insight about the challenges they face. They want to express themselves and have others acknowledge their opinions and empower their ideas and viewpoints.
We also believe in bridging worlds and bringing speakers of all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and job types to discuss various topics that young people face. We want to promote self-confidence through the lens of social justice. We believe in discussion and authentic conversation, not lecturing or one-way communication.
We believe in our youth. We believe young people are our future and the future of our community. We are not about race. We are about human-to-human connection. We believe that our youth will help build solutions for social justice.
I am thankful and proud of each and every person that has been part of EYEJ, no matter the capacity. We are an organization focused on the mission and we embrace collaboration, new ideas, and innovation in all forms. We come from such diverse backgrounds and value all the personal experiences and individual skill sets people bring to the table to help EYEJ grow to serve our youth. It truly takes a village, and I am forever grateful.