Tee shirt reading "Let my voice be heard."

by Sara Curnow Wilson

Tuttleman 102 was full of energy earlier this month as participants in the POPPYN and VOICES programs prepared for their final event. Some students worked to coordinate the details of their presentations while others socialized and greeted guests. All laughed and cheered as they recognized themselves and their friends on a slideshow from the year’s programming.

Though the warmth in the room that evening resembled the end of any other program, the event differed from the typical last day of class or camp, in that behind the hope and happiness was reference to a bleaker reality. The posters that covered the wall proclaimed “Afrofutures Are Bright” and “We Gon’ Be Alright,” but they also spelled out the names of young black victims of police brutality like Eric Garner and Rekia Boyd.

POPPYN and VOICES are parts of the University Community Collaborative, an organization that works with Philadelphia youth to foster a positive youth culture and build better communities. UCC, founded by political science professor Barbara Ferman, encourages its participants to identify and raise awareness about problems in the community.

This year, the programs centered on the Black Lives Matter movement. The evening began with a presentation from POPPYN, a news show produced by high school and college students that airs on Philly’s Public Access TV and is available on YouTube. The POPPYN students shared clips from their latest episode and talked about their experiences researching, interviewing and editing. The VOICES after school program students closed out the event. VOICES students shared their collaborative blog, Project Blackout, as well as personal poetry, song, and art about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Each group took part in a Q&A, during which students were quick to highlight the importance of the programs in the Collaborative Continuum. Participants described their renewed critical thinking skills, senses of self-empowerment, and understandings of the world around them. “I’m so aware now,” one student said, referring to racial tensions in the justice and education systems. Another described talking to her high school’s administration to make the curriculum in her history course less Eurocentric.

All participants agreed that the biggest benefit of the program was working closely with other students, both their high school peers and their college leaders. In the words of one participant, “I made a family here.”

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