For the past 18 years, I have had the distinct pleasure of serving some of our nation’s most inspiring and vulnerable youth. I am often encouraged and amazed by the extraordinary determination and resilience of our country’s most at-risk population. It is with great pride and humility that I accept the honor of being chosen as a Youth Violence Prevention White House "Champion of Change."
My personal journey serving vulnerable youth began in 1994. I founded a community based organization, the Little Black Pearl Workshop (LBP). The organization was based on the notion that “art…like everything else in the community, must respond positively to the reality and needs of the community.” Art is an effective part of the machinery in communities that moves us to change quickly and creatively. Utilizing art as a tool in the battle we are waging against youth violence is an effective instrument for creating voice and captivating the minds and hearts of our children.
Youth Violence Prevention is one of the most complex social problems facing our communities. The future of our Nation is built on the strength of its greatest assets…our children. I have experienced the overwhelming negative impact that violence can have on the broader community. Serving on the combined City of Chicago/ Cook County Anti-Violence and Community Stabilization Leadership Group led me to the realization that there is no single strategy, system or solution in place to ameliorate the challenges confronted by youth classified as high risk. Collaborating with multiple City/County leaders and networks inspired me to actively engage in developing solutions that could affect positive change in youth violence at the community level.
While serving on the Anti-Violence and Community Stabilization Committee, I led the opening of Options Laboratory School at Little Black Pearl. Options High School is designed to provide an education for “off track” (at-risk) and high school dropouts, many of whom are most vulnerable to violence. The school follows the traditions of Little Black Pearl by providing an arts and technology based curriculum, and preparing students for a quality life in the 21st Century. LBP Options Lab School is not designed to be the single model of success to the plight of learning for at-risk youth. Nor is it designed to have the quantitative reach that traditional public school programs often encompass. Options Lab School offers a safe environment, rigorous courses and creative activities designed to enhance students’ self esteem, promote conflict resolution strategies, and provide opportunities for pathways to college and careers for underserved youth. The LBP Options Lab program is a new and advanced paradigm in high school education combining the unique assets of traditional and arts based education while leveraging the resources of a Community Based Cultural Institution to provide a holistic approach to educating our nation’s most vulnerable youth.
Through my work at Little Black Pearl, I have been dedicated to creating solution-based practices designed to break down traditional barriers and find innovative solutions to one of our nation’s most critical problems of youth violence. Our nation’s 31 million vulnerable children will become even more at-risk if we approach youth violence in isolation. A positive approach recognizing the complexity of the issue has always been my personal methodology. A focus on the overall needs of children such as education, health, food and nutrition, training and employment, civic and community engagement and the well-being of the family has been the guide and compass for the continuation of my work to prevent youth violence and make our communities safer.
Monica Haslip is the Founder and Executive Director of the Little Black Pearl (LBP) and Options Laboratory School.