Monday, May 16, 2016

It Takes a Village to Build a Village

It’s recited by many that it takes a village to raise a child. New Level Sports (NLS) is taking that mantra to heart, literally, with development of a three-year project that’s been envisioned for years. Now that it’s happening, time for the community to step up and residents to get off their sofas and step out.

              The vision? The Youth Village. It’s an ambitious, five-acre, multipurpose complex situated on the western edge of downtown. In its final form, the Youth Village takes up fully one-city block, and is chockfull of resource facilities to activate the mental, physical and spiritual (not religious) potential of boys and girls.

              The Youth Village gives Battle Creek youth not only hope, but also opportunity. And we’re not just talking jobs. The higher purpose of this ambitious project is to “define, manifest, live in, prosper in and pass on an ever evolving vision to succeeding generations,” according to NLS Director Chris McCoy, who’s also Pastor of Faith Assembly Christian Fellowship.

              For nearly 15 years New Level Sports, a nonprofit youth support service, has successfully served urban youth and their families across the region. More than 10,000 of them over the years, according to its website In that time, NLS has motivated countless kids to fruitful life, education and career success. And not just kids of color.

              Not one to rest on his laurels (nor shrink from social justice issues), McCoy launched into the Youth Village project with unbridled passion. A capital campaign kicks off with a weekend of programs and events Friday May 20 through Sunday May 22. The goal is to raise $3 million to support the project’s three-phase development plan.

              The Youth Village stands on five proverbial pillars: Education, Personal Growth, Arts, Enterprise, and Sports. The project seems to align well with the two-year-old BC Vision initiative currently happening. Indeed, it complements rather than competes with other existing systems (i.e., schools, service agencies, businesses). That’s because of its holistic approach to developing children; it reclaims a way of being we seem to have lost – at least in lower income communities that have been stripped of so many resources all in the name of economic austerity.

              The Youth Village is different. Think Boys & Girls Club on steroids.

              From an early childhood development center & 24/7 childcare facility (not all jobs are 9 to 5), a youth garden and youth-operated micro businesses (screen printing, embroidering, catering), to a “dream lounge” & career center, and multi sports complex – the Youth Village is a young person destination with purpose.

Youth will be trained by instructors in business, entrepreneurship, development, cultural and community planning and personal growth development. It’s amazing to watch kids who once felt hopeless begin to discover and unleash skills, abilities and talents previously untapped within them.

              Pie in the sky? No, a slow burn. I’ve been watching McCoy cobble together support for this vision for years. See, it takes a village to build a Youth Village. McCoy says the project provides a progressive, clean and actionable path to enact positive changes in the minds of our youth. For us, by us. Hallelujah.

              Anyone remember ice skating on the “duck pond” at Irving Park? Everyone chipping in to sweep off the snow in order to skate? It was a collective endeavor for the common good that brought a lot of folks together. The Village Project offers a seasonal outdoor rink for that purpose – and I’m referring to more than the sweeping part.

              Back to adult residents and living room couch politics. Armchair quarterbacking works well when it comes to watching sports. Backseat driving is effective if you’ve got a GPS ap on your phone. But experience has proven that marshalling social change from the sofa doesn’t work. Neither does merely writing charity checks from behind an office desk or at the kitchen table – no matter how many zeros there are behind that first numeral.

              Just like growing food, community change happens when we step out the front door, roll up our sleeves and dig in. And I don’t mean telling other folks what to do. Instead it comes from asking what needs to be done and joining it.

              McCoy believes every young person, despite their background, has the ability to achieve their goals and dreams. I do too, given the proper early childhood foundation and access to resources. Lakeview and other outer lying communities have those things. Working together, we can make them available on the Northside too. At the Youth Village.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stop Celebrating Violence and Focus Instead on Family

Back in April of this year, in less than a week, four public school systems in Calhoun County were hit by threats of mass violence. The culprits? Youth. Children. Our kids.
What in the hell is going on?

It’s tempting use the F word instead. The situation is that serious and makes me want to holler.

The “peaceful” Calhoun County school districts in Pennfield, Harper Creek, Lakeview and City of Marshall were each affected. Another threat was made a week earlier in neighboring Galesburg-Augusta schools.

Bomb threats? The specter of mass shootings in our schools? In mere a handful of days our local schools have been threatened with mass violence — by our children. The fact that none of the incidents led to injury or death is a blessing. The reality that a cluster event like this even occurred, though, is an omen.

So many superficial questions are being asked. Did schools systems do enough to prevent these threats? Did they respond appropriately? Was law enforcement response quick enough? Are appropriate consequences for the perpetrators being doled out? Are we over-reacting?

Hopefully folks will get around to asking the kind of questions that dig at the root of the matter. The sad fact is that what tends to happen when such events occur is we tiptoe around the issue. We source our “inner sitcom.” That is, we sit around “thinking” about causes and solutions that can be conceived, discussed and neatly wrapped up in half-an-hour.

It’s what most of us do when it comes to noodling on deeply complex, systems-related issues. Matters like poverty, sexism, racism, ableism, patriarchy — the list is long and infamous.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. What happens at these faraway schools quickly fades into the recesses of our minds, like hysterical amnesia. Hidden from our consciousness.

Yet these and other horrific events fester like a dormant virus inside us — incubating, until the next act of outbreak of violence occurs.

Then we parade the syrupy rhetoric — “Gosh what a tragedy” — pronounce tepid calls-to-action — “Somebody needs to do something” — and proclaim fear-based solutions —“We need more guns.”

Instead of plowing into our hearts for empathy when thinking about what’s happening, we instead poke about the barnyard, scratching at the surface, like intellectual chickens.

Makes me wanna holler.

Because what’s happening is that important. It’s a societal crisis of epidemic proportions. The stakes are high, and we were lucky this week. In this community, at least. Think an act of mass violence and destruction can’t happen here? Wake up. Time to invoke the F-word.

What in the family is going on?

Family, as in father, mother, children and relatives. Family as in close, connected friends swarming to love, comfort and support each other and our youth. Family as in closely knit neighbors watching out for each other and our kids.

Family as in parents, teachers and administrators coming together to seek insightful understanding. For the purpose of acting in the best interest of students — beyond reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic. With everyone doing their part — beyond the walls of our schools and into our collective community. Not just Pennfield, Marshall, Harper Creek and Lakeview. Everywhere.

It’s time to come together and think — really think — about our society and where it’s headed (or maybe where it’s arrived). Mayhem-driven television & movies, carnage-propelled video games and venomous social media. The wanton use of violence (from bullying to bombs) to address personal and societal woes has become celebrated doctrine.

And it’s no laughing matter. Even kids should know that.

Let’s find the courage to talk about what our babies are learning is acceptable in our so-called civilized society and why. Let’s get at the root cause of it all. It’s in everyone’s best interest and the human thing to do.

J.R. Reynolds is a Battle Creek-based nonprofit consultant, writer and leadership coach. Follow him on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at