MSU Today visited Flint and the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV). The mission of the Village is to cultivate leadership capacity among Flint youth through a variety of innovative programs. Michigan State University Extension is a proud Village partner, says Director Jeff Dwyer.
“There have been important issues to address in Flint for a number of years now,” says Dwyer. “But I do think the water crisis sort of brought some of those needs together.
“MSU Extension is one of the organizations that didn't have to come to Flint to help three or four years ago when the water crisis became so apparent because we already had 15 full-time people here. And some of those people had been here for 20 or 30 years. That's an important thing to understand about Extension; we’re your neighbors. We sit in the pew with you at church and we see you at the grocery store.
“Now in Flint, not only are we still here, but now we have about 40 full-time people here because we've been able to work closely with our partners here in the community to obtain resources to get more people to do the work that needs to be done here.”
In referring the team at SBEV Dwyer adds “They are truly amazing. In just about two or three years they've really transformed this part of the north side of the downtown area of Flint. They provide services to 6,000 families. That's remarkable.”
Maryum Rasool is the executive director of the SBEV.
“Instead of creating each program that we know is a need in a community, we are bringing the programs to us. And so, it's a one stop shop.” Says Rasool. “A child can come here and whatever their dream is, they can participate in it. That’s where the partnerships with MSU Extension come in.
“The focus is 100 percent on kids, and in order to serve that child to the fullest capacity, we do service the families as well. And we take the approach of wrap around services like social and emotional enrichment programs, education, healthy moving, and health nutrition. We want to provide the youth with anything and everything they need to be successful.
“We work with most of our local universities. The kids become familiar with Michigan State and Kettering and they start to see that they can go to these schools someday, too. We want multiple touches with the universities, positive experiences. They can go from a child who never thought they would graduate from high school to a child who, not only will graduate from high school, but will go and receive a degree from a university.
“Those are the kind of experiences that we're trying to create for the youth. Not everybody's going to go to college and receive a college degree. And that's understandable. They can get a trade or be exposed to a skill set that they can use in other roles in life.”
Shane Jackson is a most enthusiastic and most energetic community nutrition instructor at Michigan State University Extension's Genesee County office. Jackson just earned Fox 66's Golden Apple Award, which goes to an exceptional Michigan K through 12 teacher. She talks about her work teaching children and families about nutrition and how it impacts every aspect of our lives.
Partnerships are key at SBEV, she says.
“I started pulling in other individuals in this vision that I have for this building because I know that nutrition affects your mood because that's more frontal and controls emotions. I said, ‘Well let me bring in somebody from social and emotional. If I bring in nutrition, if I'm going to do the nutrition, we need physical activity.’ I brought in two other individuals to actually share in this vision that I have for this place, and it just blossomed.
“One thing about MSUE, what keeps us all here, is the three Fs. That's fun, family, and flexibility. All of us are here because we all are family and we all love what we do, which makes things fun. Then the flexibility, you always can make room for things that you want to do.”
Linnell McKenney is community activities and athletics manager at the Village. She feels passionately about the connection between leadership development and athletics.
“When you're an athlete, you have to be coachable and disciplined. And when you take those skills into your life you can become a leader. We develop not just the athletic skill level, but also the life skills so the kids can be coachable and understand what it takes to become a team member.
“That creates that environment of team effort, that camaraderie, that cohesiveness. That's what a leader is, someone who can empower and to challenge and to change, if necessary, the mindset, so that people can understand what it takes to be a student athlete. So that's the importance of becoming a leader through sports. Yes.”
McKenney says a key goal at SBEV is to help keep dreams alive.
“When I was eight years old, I had a dream. That dream was to play professional basketball. They didn't have a girls’ program. Even though they had opportunities for us to develop, I had to play on the boys' basketball team. But I held onto my dream. And when I got to middle school, I had to hold onto my dream, and I was the first female to ever play on the boys' middle school basketball team.
“Eventually, they started the girls' program. I became the first to come out of Flint to play college ball on a scholarship because Title IX was not available then. I was one of the 15 in 1980 to make the Olympic team. After that, I was the first female to come out of Flint to be drafted into the professional basketball league here in the United States and the first of 15 Americans to travel to Europe. They call me the pioneer of women's basketball. Why? Because I held onto my dream.
“And so that's why we have the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village. I call it the Building of Dreams, because we want every child to come in and understand and realize that he or she can dream again. And that's what we're about.”
MSU Today airs Sunday morning at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870.