10% of the sales of The Silver Lining go directly to this month’s community organization, FoCo Cultural Enrichment Center.
Jamal Skinner is originally from New York, but he has deep roots in Fort Collins. Jamal has been the frontman of the local music group, Dubskin. He was the president of the Long Island NAACP Youth Program and a youth board representative for the Economic Opportunity Commission for Nassau County. He was a youth liaison between the Littig House and Schreiber High School in Port Washington. Skinner studied Philosophy at Howard University and was a tutor for the Howard University Youth Empowerment Program. Jamal’s influences were his family and his local community center growing up. It was so encouraging Skinner started the same work here, in Fort Collins, as the founder and Executive director of the Cultural Enrichment Center (CEC) in Fort Collins.
“Some of the people who have been, sort of, sleepwalking, have open their eyes to what is necessary for these next generations to move forward. We can say it’s based on police brutality. We can say it is within the political climate that exists, but it’s always been there,” says Jamal. “It’s wonderful to see. It is going to require many people to be in pain before there is a pleasure. I know where I’ve been. And I just wasn’t doing as much as I could possibly do.” That certainly has changed now. Jamal had this vision and this compelling need to initiate a change. But he can’t do it alone, nor does he want to. Jamal loves this town, and he knows that together, we can all be more inclusive and supportive of the little diversity here.
Perhaps we could even change that.
Beyond the curriculum, The CEC uses community connections to support the whole person of the student. The Center ensures resources are available to achieve whatever these youth dream.
One of the most recent community partnerships with The Growing Project, Gifted Handz, initiates the connection between food and earth. Students steward their own garden plot, learn to grow food with ancestral knowledge, and take ownership of their crops’ distribution within the community.
“The elders (who) taught me really gave me a love for myself early. I knew who I was in third grade. I know the moment my life changed, about what I need to be in this world. I know it like it was yesterday…. ‘Make sure you’re making a difference wherever you are,'” says Jamal. “It can be as small as Fort Collins with 3,000 black people. Make a difference. It doesn’t matter where it is or whatever you choose to do. It doesn’t have to be about cultural things, whatever. If you’re a photographer, not in Houston anymore, you could be in the middle of Cody, Wyoming; just start where you stand.”
Jamal and the CEC walk alongside each student and connect them with community resources, self-advocacy, environmental literacy, leadership, emotional and social health, wellness, and leadership. “The main purpose, in general, is to connect these students to their African American ancestry. And that we address first their academics,” says Jamal. “That is the first and foremost. We address the academics in school to make sure that if any student is below par, we find the resources to help them. Number two is to give them a curriculum in here to see things holistically, from an African-American lens.”
The CEC has a coding curriculum where the kids learn basic levels of coding. An art room, with projects devoted to African-American art. The literacy program is based on black authors. Students learn how to express informed opinions, improve time-management skills, self-reliance, with a goal of college readiness through the curricula.
Other community partners (to name a few) are Digital Workshop Center, which offers two scholarships for students who want to learn more about technology. Saja Butler teaches music instruction and production. The students have news broadcasting tools to create their own channel based on current events and issues that affect them. This Black History month the students are speaking about what exactly that means to them.
Students can access on-site computer labs to dive deep into any interest they may have. The possibilities are endless and catered to the dreams of the students. The students rotate between all the lessons to get exposure and a well-rounded curriculum.
“The greatest thing is that one of our staff is a therapist. On Friday, we have groups open for conversations they [the students] may not be comfortable having at home, in school, or wherever they’ll be. That, at the end of the day, I don’t care if any of these kids learn the things that I learned as far as histories, because that’s my passion. But the fact that they know that they have the space to come to express themselves fully with no judgment and to make connections to themselves in other forms is huge,” says Jamal. “It allows for that process of sometimes working through these things, but in a sort of fun way,”
How can people support the mission of the CEC? Well, Jamal has set an intention that, “Initially, I challenge the community. 170,000 people are living in this community. Probably point zero-zero-2% of that are Black teenagers. So my idea is, can we find 1% of 170,000 people who are willing to contribute $5 a month?” You can donate directly on the CEC website.
“The second thing is this city must learn to listen. There is no more turning a deaf ear. I won’t allow it anymore. But, I have to speak with these kids and for them. You best believe Fort Collins has got to listen to help them,” says Jamal. “The third is we have all the resources possible in this city to make sure that none of the [Black] students that come through will fail. At least by the time, they reach their senior year in high school, if they are going on to college, that we as a community, make sure we provide them with every opportunity possible to see those spaces, to fill out scholarships, or if they want to go to a trade school that we make it possible. And we have all the resources here to do that very easily for three and maybe 4 students. If that’s how many are graduating from this program.”
If you need a place to start, follow the FoCo Cultural Enrichment Center on FB. This month is Black History Month. You can learn and grow with the children and the staff through their video series on Facebook and Zoom.
“There are no excuses, first, from myself. Second, this city has no more excuses. You can’t run away from it. I am not talking about 3000 kids; I am talking about 10,” Jamal says. “So, there are no more excuses. That is the challenge. No more excuses. Time to listen. Let’s make this happen.”
This article is an expert from The Silver Lining Magazine which is available in digital and print.