By: Cearra Harris, Teen Services Specialist/Spectrum Scholar 2018-2019, ImaginOn Library (Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)
When the YMCA reached out to me to host a program on social justice for their annual Teen Summit I was initially hesitant. My hesitancy derived from the fact that my program would be held during their day’s breakout sessions and I would be competing with yoga, paint, and pop culture related sessions for program attendance. I was fearful that I would not be able to attract teens to a session that covered such a heavy topic, and even if I would be able to sustain engagement for an hour. Nonetheless, I decided to challenge myself to host an appealing program that would positively impact my audience.
One of the main struggles that I’ve faced in facilitating past outreach programs is that I’ve attempted to create a completely new program that has not been tested and worked on with an audience before. To bypass this potential low, I chose to use one of my library's successful community read programs from this year as a guide and titled my program simply "My Voice Matters." The goal of the session was to use many of the themes that are present throughout the book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas to show teens how they can use their voices to tell their stories of overcoming hardship to inspire the lives of others.
On the day of the session, I found out when I arrived that the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department would use a portion of the hour session to discuss their safety resources. This addition required me to adjust the time allotted for the activities that I had planned. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received when facilitating outreach visits was to be flexible and to expect the unexpected. The unexpected partnership with the police department during the session turned out to be the perfect ice breaker. The teens were able to ask the officer pressing questions about police protocols, the need for diversity in the police department, and the activism surrounding Charlotte’s uprising community efforts. And in an area where crime rates are seemingly high, building positive relationships between communities of color and the police is important to ensure that teens feel safe, valued, and supported. Another challenge that I faced during the session was that even though I hoped to have a lot of participants only twenty eager teens attended.
This unexpected partnership and the small audience could have been viewed as a challenge, but the partnership and more intimate setting created a safe space for the teens to express themselves. During the session, teens connected with each other and told all the program participants a piece of their story. The teens then went into discussing their passions and how they felt as if they could bring change into their community. The two biggest highlights were that the YMCA provided all the students with copies of The Hate U Give and most importantly that three young men who were hesitant to share during the session visited the library for the first time after the session and are now becoming regular library users. When facilitating outreach visits, it is important to remember that no matter what obstacle or challenge you face, your determination to provide stellar outreach services and consistency to find the best program to serve your community will ensure that you reach program success.