Announcing the Rites of Passage Program

By Claude Stephens

A generous grant will allow a newly-formed partnership of non-profits to develop a Rites of Passage program for Black youth in Louisville.

The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence has provided a $200,000 grant to three organizations — Bridge Kids International (BKI), Play Cousins Collective (PCC) and Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest — to develop this wide-ranging program that will include immersive experiences in nature as part of nurturing a new generation of young Black men and women during a critical phase of development.

Play Cousins Collective Executive Director Kristen Williams said Rites of Passage honors the passing from childhood into adulthood with an emphasis on the associated roles and responsibilities.

“This program will provide tools for physical, social and emotional health while supporting a sense of pride, clarity and purpose,” Williams said. “Such programs are rooted in Pan-African tradition, have great significance in the Black community and provide culturally-based and safe spaces for maturation, mentorship and skill-building for a healthy transition to adulthood. Our ultimate goal is to help adolescents realize their place as leaders in our community while improving health and increasing a sense of connectedness and responsibility.”

Stacy Bailey-Ndiaye, BKI Executive Director, said she anticipates Black youth developing a stronger, positive ethnic/racial identity as an outcome of the program.

“As a result of youth being exposed to a culturally relevant curriculum, positive peer group, and committed role models, we expect youth participants to nurture a positive sense of self – as proud and powerful young adults of African heritage – which will lead to a range of positive outcomes,” she said. “Furthermore, we believe there will be a unique benefit of engaging these youth in natural outdoor landscapes, such as Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. We expect young people to have an increased connection to, and appreciation for the natural environment.”

Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence President and CEO Jeff Polson said the proposal is an exciting opportunity to bring strong partners together to pilot innovative youth programming.

“We are pleased to fund the Rites of Passage project, which demonstrates leading edge best practices in youth engagement – from the unique partnerships that form the organizational structure, to the youth who will be involved from the inception of the project and throughout its process,” he said. “And finally, the involvement of nature as an essential role to maturation is one that is sorely lacking in urban communities, and one that we felt set this program apart.”

Bernheim’s Children at Play Network (CAPN) Director Claude Stephens said research points to the value of nature and play for social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.

“Bernheim will provide a destination for the immersive experiences in nature for adolescents in the Rites of Passage program as well as serve as the project convenor and provide fiscal oversight,” Stephens said. “This program will provide a path for youth to actualize their hopes and dreams. The goal of each of these three organizations is not to give anyone anything, except the tools to get to where they want to go.”

Clemson University’s REYSE Collaboratory for Race, Ethnicity, Youth and Social Justice will serve as evaluator for the program. The mission of the Collaboratory is to improve the lives of racialized and ethnicized youth through innovation, community engagement and knowledge exchange. REYSE works with researchers, students, educators, community members, scholars, policymakers and organizations and the media to ensure its resources are available to all in order to make practical, usable connections between research, outcomes, policies and best practices.

The grant includes a planning and pilot phase in the first year, followed by a year of programming. Additional service partners will be identified for participation in the program as it is developed.

About Play Cousins Collective
Play Cousins Collective is a Black family collective focused on building a village around Louisville’s Black youth. Through family and children’s programming, community building and resource sharing Play Cousins is creating extended kin and wrapping a network of support around Black Families. PCC’s network of over 500 families, mainly living in West Louisville, will assist in finding families who believe their youth can benefit from a Rites of Passage program.

About Bridge Kids International
Bridge Kids International (BKI) uses the power of African heritage and culture to support the well-being of young people and help them develop solutions to community challenges, and to strengthen relationships between Africans and African Americans. BKI programs support positive racial/ethnic/cultural and gender identity, empower young families, nurture creative confidence, and promote self-determination. BKI will provide the cultural framework for the project.

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