This has been a remarkable month filled with extreme elation and bottomed-out depression. This month started off really great: our numbers across the program are pretty solid, and funding opportunities and donations have been very steady. The highlight was us winning the Renewal Awards sponsored by Allstate and the Atlantic. We were one of five winners out of almost 500 nominations nationwide!! I attended the Renewal Summit in Washington DC to receive our award and participated in a panel with Ronald Brownstein from the Atlantic and CNN. It was absolutely euphoric to walk the streets of the historic nation capital. I almost didn’t want to come home! The experience was amazing and humbling; all I could think of was the wonderful staff, volunteers, parents, and players in our Lost Boyz family and how fortunate and blessed I was to be at the center of it.
Meeting and learning more about the four other winners, their organizations, and how they contribute to their cities was the most gratifying part of the experience. The astounding work being done by the other organizations was inspiring. Their missions included helping incarcerated mothers not lose their children to the system while in jail, helping homeless LGBTQ youth get on their feet, community driven safe space infrastructure building in urban and international communities, and helping incarcerated men find their voices through poetry. That all brought everything into focus for me, crystal clear, with regard to who we are as a nation and how we are honestly charged with taking care of one another. That to me is the unique difference about our country and what has and should make us stand out. We will never eradicate social injustices, but how we respond to them is the real tell tale of our national character. Despite the bad aspects about America, there is still so much that is good. That is the true test and definition of Patriotism, the measure of our love for our country accompanied by the tool of action.
The worst of what we experienced this past month was the loss of another youth participant in our program and a participant losing her sister to gun violence in Ohio. Khiry Taggart was a young man that came to our SYL Sports Journalism program last summer, and he was a really awesome young man with a knack for writing. He went off to Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville last fall, and I was very much looking forward to his return this summer expecting his leadership to take the journalism program to a new level. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. Khiry was tragically shot and killed in St. Louis in mid-April. Although I had only known Khiry for a summer, I openly wept at my desk and in front of my boss. I hurt for that young man and his family and friends. Even more I was OUTRAGED about the gun violence in America, specifically in communities of color. Everyday it just feels like an endless repeating loop, a scratched record that we can’t get off the turntable, regardless of the effort of thousands of Americans on a daily basis attempting to combat violence. Mikalya, one of our original and star softball players lost her sister to gun violence a week before Khiry’s death. Days before that, we experienced a mass killing in our community where 8 lives were taken in less than 12 hours in related and unrelated shootings. It was so scary that our staff shut the program down for the next day based on safety protocol until we knew from the community that the situation would not further escalate.
Although our community has its fearful challenges, South Shore and no other community of color should be stereotyped or dismissed as just another “ghetto”. If anything, this is a call to action for Americans of all hue to acknowledge and help contribute to the solution. It may be a predominately black community in urban Chicago, a white community in small town California, or a Native American community in rural Dakota — no matter where, what, or why, that community and its people are American before they are a color. That is the mindset that is going to change the game on the issues of violence, poverty, and miseducation. We have got to remember to live up to the creed of “One Nation Under God, indivisible, with justice and liberty for all”.
As we usher in the summer America, let’s remember who we are together. Let’s roll up our sleeves together and leave a better nation for those that follow us. Stay tuned…we plan on bringing you an amazing summer at Lost Boyz and find ways to more intimately keep you connected with our activities, kids, and supporters.
Until the next time, I leave you with the wise words of a wise man:
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on …”
Yours in Service,
LaVonté Stewart Sr.