A conversation about youth with FWUL’s Jonathan Ray

| January 13, 2016
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric D. Hackley

Eric Hackley: I would like to present the President/CEO of the Fort Wayne Urban League Jonathan C. Ray.

Jonathan, I’ve been working with your After School program for here at the Urban League.  When you originally conceptualized this program for young people, what  was your intention?

Jonathan Ray: What we really want to do is to reduce the academic gap that exists for low income urban kids and mainstream kids in Fort Wayne.  We can do that by providing both homework assistance as well as remediation so kids can get on pace with their homework and in turning their assignments. But also to help them catch up it they are behind.

In addition to that, we want to create an awareness where we can create leaders, so kids can think for themselves. What’s critical when you’re talking about an after school program is, if all you’re doing is repeating what has happens in school, then you’re doing the kids a disservice.  You want to have the flexibility to create opportunities for learning in ways they don’t learn in school.

HACKLEY: You certainly have a lot of innovativeness going on here. I’ve been speaking with people about the Fort Wayne Urban League mayoral concept where a kid becomes mayor of the Urban League. Is the long term thinking behind this idea that if you apply earned constructive labels to kids at a young age, they will be positively influenced through the reward and continue this productive mindset throughout life?  Am I accurate?

Fort Wayne Urban League President/CEO Jonathan Ray

Fort Wayne Urban League President/CEO Jonathan Ray

RAY: Absolutely. What we’re doing is creating a value add. At the end of the day we want our kids to realize and believe that they can be anything they choose to be if they’re willing to work at it.

What this mayor’s race did is it created leaders where there was a vacuum. We want our kids to lead themselves.  We don’t want them to be like the traditional staff where we’re the authority. We want the kids to understand that there’s a path and pattern that they need to follow and that creates leaders and puts kids in a position where they can police themselves and understand why education is important not because I say it’s important, but it’s important because it will make a big impact on their life in the future.

HACKLEY: Why is it important for a kid even if only five years old, to declare what they want to be in life?

RAY: I think if you don’t think about your future, then you’re just stuck in the here and now. And if you’re living for the now, you won’t be prepared for your future. So we want our kids to start thinking about life as an adult, life as a teen, life in advance of where they are right now so they can think about their future and make good choices that will impact them later.

HACKLEY: One of the things that’s wrong with our community is, we don’t vote. I noticed that during the Urban League election for mayor, you had kids in the kindergarten voting. Why is it important that kids vote even at this age?

RAY: Whether you’re in the kindergarten or a senior citizen, what’s important about the voting process is that it makes a difference. So if a kindergarten or a first grader is voting for someone who is representing their best interest, that’s what the whole voting process is all about for an adult. Those first graders and kindergarteners listened to the platforms that were presented by the to individuals that ran for mayor. They voted for the person who offered to best represent the Urban League and that’s exactly what we want them to do now and really more importantly, as they grow into adulthood that they understand their vote means something and that they can make a difference by going to the ballot box.

HACKLEY: Can these young people have an impact on voter apathy?

RAY: If you’re asking me if I think the children can have an impact on their parents, yes!  At the end of the day as they participate in the voting process at the Urban League, they’ll ask their parents invariably, who they voted for in the adult process.

HACKLEY: I’ve noticed that in addition to your mayoral concept, you also have involvement from the Boy Scouts and YMCA. What gave you the idea to incorporate these other entities into the lives of your young people?

RAY: We involve all. We’re an open book to collaboration. In this case we’re talking about the “Y” and Boy Scouts, but there are lots of other things the Urban League does not do but we want to make sure that our kids have a wide variety of stimuli that gives them a well rounded perspective of life. In the two cases you made reference to, those organizations are presenting new opportunities for life experiences for the kids that we’re serving and the Urban League is all about that.

HACKLEY:  What message do you want to give to young people? What is your overall goal for them?

RAY: I want the young people to realize that they don’t have to be stuck with whatever their life situation is. We have a mixed group of people, but a majority of our kids are low income. So I want our kids to realize that there is a pathway out. When you think about directions, if I was headed to Chicago I would get a map and head the exact way. If I just wanted to go northwest, I could get there but it would take me probably a longer period of time if I just wandered there. So what do we want from our kids? We want the kids to leave the Urban League with a pathway to success. A way that they can see themselves at the finish line versus just wondering and being impacted and affected by anything that comes their way. That’s what’s happening to some of our kids who are making mistakes when they exit high school. They get caught up in a lifestyle they didn’t plan to be in, but because they didn’t have any plans, they fell into those pathways.

HACKLEY: And that all happens when a kid is in the kindergarten?

RAY: That all begins from that first day of school that continues to when you reach adulthood. When kids are in high school, they are considered a child. The moment they graduate from high school, now they are considered an adult and they are expected to be able to make adult decisions.

But, if you’ve only been living the here and now and not looking at your life in a future perspective, you won’t be prepared for adulthood. And that’s what the Urban League is all about, helping our kids transition from childhood to adulthood.

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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Education, Features, Local, People

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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