December 8, 2016
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National Rites Of Passage Unveils Strategy For Youth Development


Cleveland, OH – “What
if institutions of learning were turned into institutions of initiations?  What if we rallied around raising the whole
child instead of just raising test scores? The greatest motivator we have is to
give them what they need, what they crave for and what they desire – connect
them to the natural world and to their ancestors. We must have a youth
development policy.” Those were the words of Dr. David Blumenkrantz, Founder of
the Center for the Advancement of Youth, Family and Community Services Inc.
Glastonbury, CT as he spoke at the National Rites of Passage Institute (NROPI)
event, which took place yesterday at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Enterprise
in Lyndhurst.  NROPI, in conjunction with
program sponsor, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, unveiled the breakthrough program
to educators, practitioners, philanthropists, policy makers, and scholars from
all over the country (including Florida, Georgia and Washington), and even Nova
Scotia.  NROPI was founded by Paul Hill Jr., a Social Worker and President/CEO of East End
Neighborhood House, a multi-service, neighborhood center located in Cleveland, and
founded in the settlement house tradition in 1907. 
 
The “Rites of Passage” is a timeless African
tradition that intentionally guides a person’s holistic development through
life’s transitions using rituals and ceremonies for the discovery of their
purpose and responsibility to build healthy and just communities.  The ultimate goal of NROPI is to utilize the
program as a strategy for the development of young children and youth, and the
communities in which they live.
 
In the tradition of African culture, the event began
with Paul Hill Jr. asking for the elder to grant him permission to begin the
program.  Hill’s mentor and teacher,
Elder Useni Perkins granted him permission to begin and “honor those whose
shoulders we all stand on”, while the audience listened to the tapping of young
African drummers from the East End Neighborhood House African Drum Ensemble. 
 
The event featured national
experts, special presentations and intentional dialogue that included a
scholarly and impactful keynote by Gregory B. Taylor, Vice President for
Programs, W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Taylor discussed the challenges of child
development and community building, and how Kellogg, which is the fifth largest
Foundation in the Country, is very committed to youth programs, particularly
the National Rites of Passage Institute.  “Recognize that there’s an ancestry that young people need to
understand; the intentional opening of the door - leveraging the work, the
language, music and history of our community...  If kids can understand ‘Who am I?’, ‘Who are we?’, ‘What is going on
around us?’, and ‘What action am I going to take to improve our circumstances’,
then we won’t continue to have so many problems in our communities,” he
said. 
 
The unveiling also included a
dynamic panel discussion with practitioners sharing their experiences with rites
of passage programs and the implications of rites of passage as a strategy for
child development and community building in schools, prisons, communities, and
faith-based institutions.  Panelist
included Randolph Potts, PhD; Dr. David Blumenkrantz, PhD; David Miller, PhD;
Kweku Embil, Darcy Ottey, Pamela Hubbard and Rev. Nolan Shaw, PhD.  Rev. Dr. Nolan Shaw, founder of Boys to Men
in Chicago, noted “much of my work has been researching the history and
traditions of the Black church in America.  As we connect to these traditions and the scripture that is the
foundation of that tradition, we see rites of passage can be a seamless part of
the church and can easily go to scale in communities of color through a train
the trainer model that shares best practices.”
 
Nationally
recognized evaluators, Dr. Roderick J. Watts, Associate Professor of Community
Psychology at Georgia State University, and Dr. Deborah Wasserman, owner and
Principal Consultant, PERSolutions: Program Evaluation and Research Solutions
and lecturer in Department of Human Development and Family Science at The Ohio
State University, shared their assessment of the NROPI and showed that rites of
passage programs have had a positive impact on educational outcomes.  Dr. Wasserman’s self-determination theory is
a promising research approach for culturally specific programs such as rites of
passage.  Participants furthered these
discussions on the future implications of utilizing rites of passage as a
strategy for child, youth and community development.
 
A highlight of the event included the
premier of the documentary, The
Journey:  The Story of the National Rites
of Passage Institute (see clip at http://www.ritesofpassage.org) based on culturally-based rites of passage programs using the story and history
of the National Rites of Passage Institute.  The film, produced by The Adcom Group, documents the impact of rites of
passage programs through practitioners, youth and adults participants,
teachers, scholars and others involved with the National Rites of Passage
Institute.  The documentary brought tears
to Hill’s eyes, and the audience to its feet.  “I grew up learning about my past, my history and my lineage,” said
Fanon Hill, son of Paul Hill, who has followed in the footsteps of his dad,
serving as the Founder/Executive Director of The Baltimore City Youth
Resiliency Institute. “My dad formed Simba, and then formed the Ohio ROP
Institute.  All along, working to support
the healthy development of children, his own children and those in the
communities where he served. It’s a process designed to regenerate the
community.”
 
NROPI offered elder recognition
awards to Useni Perkins (Chicago), John Mitchell (Cleveland), Daniel ‘Nane’
Alejandrez (Santa Cruz) and Dr. Anthony Mensah (Chicago, accepted by his
daughter, Antoinette Mensah) in recognition of their work of child, youth and
community development using rites of passage.
 
"This event today was
the highlight of my work in bringing together fellow practitioners and scholars
to provide intentional dialogue and discussion with the funding and public
policy community about the need for rites of passage as a critical strategy for
child and youth development and community regeneration.  I was very please with the national and
international participation and responses for this critical work. The next
stage of the work is taking it to scale with the support of the W.K. Kellogg
foundation and others." Hill said.
 
Elder Perkins closed out the program
dramatically stating, “I know that our ancestors are looking down:  Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner,
W.E. Dubois…  They’re all just looking at
us.  They’re saying ‘they are beginning
to listen’… So, for the ancestors that you all have personal relationships with,
they are pleased and they are holding each of us accountable.”
           
 
For more information on the
National Rites of Passage Institute, please contact the National Rites of Passage
Institute at 216-707-6030 or visit www.ritesofpassage.org.
 
 
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