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NEWS | May 6, 2024

CGYCA partners with D.C. Commission on Black Men and Boys to repair ‘community villages and pipelines’

By Master Sgt. Arthur Mondale Wright D.C. National Guard

Over 20 years ago, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton established the D.C. Commission on Black Men and Boys, responsible for addressing important issues, such as disparities in social conditions and incarceration rates. The commission creates recommendations for federal and local legislators, policy makers, and residents.

“Their work is not only beneficial to me and my work to District residents, but also for those who are parents, teachers, mentors, and involved citizens,” said Rep. Holmes Norton.

Her commission has fueled frank discussions and action on difficult issues from government program improvements to school absenteeism, violence, mental, and crime. The goal includes crafting legislation to implement recommendations.

“This commission wants to address solutions that are readily available to the public, and we want to come up with a plan that involves everyone,” said retired Maj. Gen. Errol Schwartz, former Commanding General of the District of Columbia National Guard and commission chairperson. “D.C. is a unique place because it’s the center of government and we need to make sure we’re setting examples for the nation. It takes a village to enact solutions and how can we synergize our ideas for the common good.”

In front of an audience that included D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith, representatives from the Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy spoke about the possibilities and solutions they themselves offer as a life intervention, dropout reintegration, and GED preparatory program. Philip M. Burk, Director, Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy calls himself an advocate for youth closing the disconnect between generations and filling voids.

“We’re reestablishing the relationship and chain between the Baby Boomers working with Millennials who in turn are working with Generation Z,” Burk said. “We’re rebuilding the family and community construct, utilizing the village approach, building bridges, and establishing pipelines for youth success. Communication and guidance can go a long way. We can’t write our youth off or just standby because they are our future.”

Director Burk is referring to the eight core components of the Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy’s initial residential phase that offers teens age 16 to 18 an opportunity to redirect their future. The five-and-a-half-month program covers eight components: Responsible Citizenship, Academic Excellence (GED/High School Diploma and High School Credit Recovery), Life Coping Skills, Service to Community, Health and Hygiene, Job Skills, Physical Training, and Leadership/Followership.

“Our program absolutely works,” Director Burk said. “We have cadets who are now serving in the military, enrolled in college, returned to high school, entrepreneurs, teachers, a myriad of careers—the program works, not only for the youth but for the families, communities, and ultimately the District.”

Seated and presenting next to Director Burk at the April 30 commission meeting was Cadet William Thomas, a current member of CGYCA Class 62.

“I found myself involved in things that weren’t beneficial to my future nor were they preparing me for my future,” Thomas said. “Since starting the program, the path to achieve my goals has become clearer—I want to do a lot. Being in the Academy forces you to think differently, operate differently and exposes you to mentors who open your eyes to possibilities. A real man has values, lives by integrity, is disciplined, and has a plan every day.”

D.C. resident Hector Lamas completed the Academy in 2012, and today serves as an assistant lead recruiter. He adds the program’s track record is evidence it still works, but the cadets entering the program have more diversified backgrounds and are often dealing with the impact of the economy and the region’s high cost of living.

“Some of our cadets come from homes where parents are working two jobs, and these kids are tasked to watch their siblings and deal with adult responsibilities in addition to their own studies,” Lamas said. “It’s tough and we have youth dealing with these realities.”

Since 2003, approx. 210,000 cadets have completed the program nationally. Both Lamas and Director Burk want to see more trust from District residents who consider the Academy a strong contender and solution for change.

“Hopefully tonight is the beginning of a fruitful relationship,” Director Burk said. “We want to talk, and we want to put together a comprehensive strategy that will take care of this issue. The Youth ChalleNGe Academy is an option.”

The Academy provides 100% free tuition/room and board, scholarship opportunities, a structured quasi-military environment, and financial literacy through a partnership with U.S. Bank of Washington, D.C. For more information about the CGYCA or to enroll visit here.

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