By Aleisia Canty, Washington Informer Summer Employee
The Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program has played a crucial role in my development as a professional in the workforce.
The program, which began years ago during Marion Barry’s first term as mayor, allows teens as young as age 14 to be employed in the summer months.
Barry’s program changed the outcome of many teenagers’ lives, allowing them to build a work history that would afford better chances of future employment. I have been able to reap many benefits from my experience as an MBSYEP worker.
I obtained my first job at age 14, working at Friendship Collegiate high school; where I was enrolled for my freshman year. Friendship Collegiate looked for incoming freshman who were MBSYEP workers to attend a form of summer school referred to as “Summer Bridge” to familiarize them with their new stomping grounds.
Throughout my summer at Friendship Collegiate, I took creative writing and theatre classes that assisted in shaping my artistic lens. I also connected with incoming classmates to make the process from middle school to high school smoother.
The following summer I was assigned to work at “Split This Rock,” a nonprofit organization that cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry centering on social issues to provoke social change.
I learned about the organization through a friend who was a member of their youth slam team. I worked closely with the DC Youth Slam Team, that utilizes poetry to teach and empower teens from the metropolitan area to speak up about social justice issues.
While participating with the Team, my writing skills improved. I also gained had the confidence to push past my fears about performing on stage.
Since I never referred to myself as a poet due to my fear of not being understood, I was initially apprehensive about performing. Therefore, the Team helped me realize that as long as I conveyed emotion in my poetry, my message would get through.
I spent the entire summer discovering the poetry community in DC. There are poetry-based restaurants such as Busboys & Poets and Sankofa Video Books & Cafe. I pushed myself to perform at these businesses during their open mic nights.
It was during one of these open mic nights that I performed an extremely personal poem in honor of my cousin, Relisha Rudd, who went missing in March 2014. While watching a news update of her disappearance with my grandmother, I found out that we were related. This revelation led me to write many poems about Relisha.
Split This Rock also held weekly writing workshops that I took advantage of to enhance my skills and become comfortable performing for a crowd. My time with Split This Rock and The DC Youth Slam Team was a defining moment in my work career, as it caused me to work with a passion and larger goal for society. I enjoyed my job so much that I requested and obtained it again the next year, which has allowed me to some meet amazing poets, who have become friends, mentors and role models.
After spending two years with Split This Rock, I was assigned a job with the National Parks Service as an interpreter at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. This was my first customer service job and I worked daily, providing guests with the story of Frederick Douglass’s life.
That opportunity allowed me to learn more about Douglass’s life than I did in high school. The gist of my knowledge prior to working at the Douglass home consisted of him being born a slave, taking back his freedom, the publishing of his first book and his work as an abolitionist.
These are just milestones on a timeline that really didn’t speak to Douglass’s personality, which I learned more about over my time at his home. I became aware of dinner time theatrics, his oratorical skills; which were so profound, that many White people did not believe he was a former slave.
I learned about Douglass’s daily life, lifting barbells and walking from his home in Anacostia to his office on H Street to stay in shape, as well as his love for music with his daughter playing the piano while his grandson played the violin. My time at Douglass’s home taught me about Douglass the man; not the public figure.
My most recent summer job has been working at The Washington Informer, a Black-owned, female published newspaper, that has been covering stories across the District, Virginia and Maryland area since 1964.
Each summer job has expanded my knowledge of the uniqueness of D.C., regarding both its present and past.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as an MBSYEP participant.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Informer.