“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The youth is the future, and the future is now. The Fayette County Youth Council NAACP is working together to ensure an equal and brighter tomorrow for everyone.
The Youth Council’s purpose is to inform teens of their rights as citizens, enhance their economic, education, social, and political status, engender cooperation among people of all race and ethnicity, and stimulate appreciation for the contributions African-American ancestors have given to the advancement of America.
Its formation dates back to 1935, when the NAACP was pressed to address Civil Rights issues facing the nation’s youth, leading to the formation of the Youth and College Division the following year. Youth and College Division chapters were formed at schools around the country, and student sit-ins and protests were held to push for the end of lynchings and to be served in restaurants.
The modern-day Youth Council offers a variety of committees to dial down deeper on key issues: Education, Communications, Health, Programs & Research, Political Action/Voter Empowerment, Juvenile Justice, and Economic Empowerment.
The ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics) is another focus. The ACT-SO is a year-long enrichment program culminating in local and national competitions where students ages 14 through 18 compete for awards and scholarships.
They offer a wide variety of events throughout the year, kicking off with the MLK Day celebration and program, a Black History Month field trip in February, an Economic Empowerment Workshop in April, a Juneteenth Celebration, a Juvenile Justice Forum in August, and other community events throughout the year.
The Council is building an annual Black History Month tradition where they travel to a landmark of cultural significance. Last year, they went to Alabama and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. This year, they will head to Macon on Feb. 22 to tour the Harriet Tubman Museum, and the public is encouraged to ride along.
The economic empowerment workshop features experts speaking about banking, managing money, knowing the value of a dollar, and encouraging investing at a young age.
The Juvenile Justice Forum brings together students with community members, including educators, religious leaders, and law enforcement officials to engage in positive communication and increase teens’ knowledge of laws governing them to help reduce teen crime rates.
“It’s about letting the kids understand that (law enforcement personnel) are human beings just like they are, and how to respect the law and how to be in control of your own temperament and emotions and don’t ruin your career prospects,” said Youth Council Advisor Alice Jones.
President Aliana Stanley, a promising Whitewater High senior who has already completed her first year of college coursework through dual-enrollment, got started with the Council at the insistence of her mother, but she quickly found herself driven to get more involved.
She was elected Vice President at her second meeting, and her role has grown from there.
“After becoming Vice President, I got really involved, and I learned more about the organization and what it’s all about and what they did, and I fell in love with it,” said Stanley.
The following year she was elected President, and she is currently in her second year in the role.
“Being a part of this is fun and rewarding because I know I’m giving back. I’m a busy person, but I’m giving my time to something that I believe in. It’s something that impacts me,” she said.
Vice President Josiah Hernton, who attends Community Christian School, joined to help out his fellow man.
“I just wanted to do more to help out my community and do whatever I can to be of service,” he said.
He wants to keep recruiting and grow the Council, so it will have a healthy base for years to come.
“We need more members so that when we leave, someone else can step up and carry on,” he said.
Alice Jones, the lead advisor of the Youth Council, got involved as a means to repay the mentorship she thrived upon growing up. Her parents separated when she was young, and community members stepped up to help shepherd her.
“We had mentors in our life, my sisters and brothers,” she said. “If it wasn’t for those persons giving us some leadership direction, I don’t know where we would be.”
She spent many years as a teacher, both at the high school and college level, and when she retired in 2003, she wanted to focus on giving back.
“I decided that I was going to give my time back to help young people,” she said. “The concern is making sure young people are productive, that they are making progress with their lives. It’s a concern for our future.”
Her co-advisor, Bernie Coston, is also driven to share the tools to be well-rounded members of the community.
“It’s about giving back, just looking at a way that I could support the youth in any way that I could because they’re the future,” he said. “They’re picking up a lot of different issues and getting actively involved and staying informed. With social media and everything else, they’re trying to get information out to their peers.”
When you open the lines of communication at a younger age, you can grow together.
“We don’t know each others history, where we’ve been, or the obstacles we’ve faced until we start a dialog,” said Jones. “They feel compassion and the need to help people gain equal opportunity.
“When you hit their level of integrity and interest and they pursue that and they see down he road how successful they can become, they continue to move toward that end.”
The members of the Council come from many different schools around the county, but it hasn’t built any walls between them.
“What I think is amazing is that, with all of them coming from different schools around the county, they still find a way to communicate across those boundaries and not let the schools be a roadblock to them staying informed and educated,” said Coston.
Many people have a misconception of what the NAACP itself works toward.
“A lot of people think that it’s just an organization to fight for somebody’s rights or when they get in trouble with the law. We try to make sure there is a level playing field, that you’re not giving someone disparate treatment,” said Jones. “It’s an organization to make sure that there is equal opportunity, fairness, and no one is taken advantage of because of the color of their skin.”
Stanley encourages any student to get involved and to do it as soon as possible.
“The biggest thing is to get involved when you’re young because it’s something that you really should grow up in,” she said, noting that she did not know her local chapter when she lived in New Jersey and wishes she had. “It gives you structure. It helps with leadership skills, time management, stuff you’re going to need later in life that you don’t know you’re going to need until you get in it.”
She is building a life-long connection.
“I know when I go to college, I want to continue,” she said. “I think that’s what it’s all about, finding something that you want to keep doing as you get older.”
As she prepares for college, she leans on her group for help.
“My branch supports me in everything that I do. They’ve always been there for me. They’re always pushing me to do better,” said Stanley, who dreams of attending Spellman. “It’s expensive, but they’re pushing me to do what I’ve got to do to get there. They’re pushing me to apply for scholarships.
“We’re really a family. If you call one of us, text one of us, we’ll be there for you,” said Stanley. “It’s a close knit family, and we really care about each other.”
The Youth Council meets the fourth Sunday of the Month at Olivet Church of Christ in Fayetteville. It is open to ages 8 through 25.
For information on how to get involved with the Fayette County Youth Council NAACP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find “Fayette County NAACP Youth Council” on Facebook.