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K-12 Education

Cultivating Young Community Leaders

Detroit’s southwest neighborhood Chadsey Condon is home to a large number of Arab American families. A major concern for these families has been their children’s safety walking to and from school, particularly in crossing busy streets like Michigan Avenue. Three fathers approached the community group JIRAN (Join In to Revitalize Arab American Neighborhoods) and helped to develop a Safe Crossing Project to recruit, train and install crossing guards at dangerous intersections.

“The (parents) felt empowered when they realized that there is something that they can do to improve safety in their community,” says Anisa Sahoubah, director of the ACCESS Youth and Education division.

ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) founded JIRAN in 2008 to help connect Arab American families in southwest Detroit to their neighbors. JIRAN encourages adults and youth to participate in neighborhood planning and governance boards, and to build relationships with their community schools, nonprofit organizations and city officials. “Jiran” in Arabic means “neighbor.”

Aswan Jiran

By 2010 most of the leaders in JIRAN were high school youth, and the group decided to make youth leadership their core focus. To engage a broader range of young people, they formed the Chadsey Condon Youth Committee (CCYC).

“We found more energy in youth, and we wanted to build for the future,” explains Aswan Almaktary, JIRAN’s coordinator.

Aswan coaches youth to listen to what a range of people — including other youth — are saying, and to learn how to work with others to better their Detroit community. She encourages them “not to run away from Detroit and its problems, but go to college and return to Detroit to face its problems.” She urges youth to think about the possibilities in their environment and to act on them, such as turning vacant lots into community gardens and engaging local businesses in safety issues.

JIRAN and CCYC guide participants to become more active and skilled in their own neighborhood and ethnic enclave, and to learn about and participate in institutions and networks that reach across neighborhood lines. These include citywide and even regional, state and national systems for accessing opportunity, developing capacity and solving problems.

“You can’t achieve as much by yourself,” says Aswan.

This blog is excerpted from Strengthening Grassroots Community Leadership in Detroit, an Evaluation Report on the Community Connections Grants Program, 2006-2015, produced by David Scheie, Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry. The Brightmoor Community Center and Wellspring receive funding through the Skillman-supported Community Connections small grant program and is included in the report as a case study. Download the full report.

Strengthening Grassroots Community Leadership in Detroit is a product of the Skillman Foundation’s Kids Matter Here: An Analytic Review of the 10-year Good Neighborhoods Initiative.

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