I’m Sherman Patterson Jr., and before I was a Bush Fellow, I was a mentor and community leader who saw a need for change in my city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Too many times I felt my immediate community impacted by violence; too many times I saw children looking for role models and wanting someone to listen to them. I saw the reality around me and realized, something needs to be done and I would love the resources to be able to achieve that change. I like to be present and enjoy the moment – anyone who knows me can tell you that - but I also like to give back to things I enjoy and feel inspired to facilitate change when I see there is a need. With that feeling of determination and hope, and with the enthusiastic encouragement from friends and family, I applied for the Bush Fellowship, outlining my dream to make a constructive, lasting impact on the lives of children in my area.
It’s now been six months since I first began to create a youth gun violence prevention program, focusing on growing leaders out of young men in our communities and empowering them to inspire their peers. We are called Lead By Example Minneapolis (LBE), and we meet the second Saturday of each month through 2016 for youth programming, as well as youth project work on breaking the cycle of gun violence. There are 13 young men in the program, all of whom are talented and intelligent, but each with different strengths and personalities that we uncover more of at each meeting.
On occasion, aside from the regular Saturday meetings, I take small groups of the LBE youth on special outings: we may be working in a food truck, attending public speaking engagement, or going to a nice dinner honoring local leaders. It is important to me that I am spending time with the boys as individuals; I designed the first “class of LBE 2014” small for that reason. These relationships we are creating are about quality, and the education we provide is about self-respect and expression, mental acuity, professional skills, and leadership among their peers. I find personal investment and two-way communication with the boys goes a lot further than having them sit and listen to adults all the time. It’s important to me that they know I am doing this program for them, that I am planning exciting and educational experiences for them, that I want the best for them and that I am here if they need me. Hopefully, they will be inspired to turn around and be that person for someone else when they are needed, too.
I’ve said it before: LBE is going to be big! The future of LBE is fueled not only by myself and the LBE team, but also by the enthusiasm and positive feedback I’ve received. Many people, upon hearing what LBE is about and seeing the pictures of the boys, tell me excitedly, “I would have loved to have had something like that when I was their age! What a great idea, please let me know how I can be involved.” Some companies who have already sprang into action include Target Corporation, who donated 15 laptops for our Saturday sessions. We additionally were granted a fantastic meeting space courtesy of Standard Air & Heating, with a perfect classroom setting and projector capabilities for our program facilitators.
Not everything has gone as smoothly as I’d anticipated, and sometimes things happened that I hadn’t anticipated at all. One of the first things to happen was I realized I probably was going to need (a lot) more prep time to develop the program and round out the curriculum with the program facilitators than I’d originally planned. So, we were flexible and pushed the start date back to coincide with the start of school; I hired a coordinator to assist with organizational details and follow-up, and we were able to take more time focusing on the quality of the program rather than trying to do too much too quickly.
One issue I ran into that was out of my control was that at one location where I’d distributed the applications and program information. I discovered that in the weeks the community facility had had them, the applications not been passed out – to anyone at all! After my initial frustration and disappointment at not having several new applicants like I’d hoped, I decided to pursue another avenue and asked Council Member Abdi Warsame if he would be able to help me find a few more youth for the program. It turned out even better than expected, as Council Member Warsame was very eager to connect me with some young men and get them into the program, with his full support. He’s even offered to come and speak with the boys personally, and give them an insiders’ tour of where he works in City Hall.
Another time, communication fell through with one of my staff and we had a situation where things weren’t done on time which meant they were not available to the boys for a Saturday session. Meanwhile, other things weren’t done correctly and had to be redone which made for some stress and literal running around. However, we made a plan for next time, addressed the issues that had held us back, and went forward with more wisdom than before. Each time we hit an obstacle we are correcting course and learning from it.
As the weeks progress, I’m gaining experiencing in implementing a program from grassroots-through-executive levels. Each time I speak about the LBE Program, I discover more about specific aspects of youth programming from friends and colleagues, and get feedback on my own insights on challenges and ideas. There are many great fellow Fellows I’ve been connected with, who have all sorts of practices and stories. Strategizing with other fellows/leaders - and the youth themselves - on ideas to address issues from a collective perspective is one of the most energizing and exciting pieces of working on LBE.
Developing and implementing this program continues to be a highly educational journey. I continue to learn about having patience with myself and, and I’ve been discovering new things about what works for me and when I need to put my trust in others. I enjoy being very active in my community and with LBE but occasionally I still need reminding that certain aspects of running the program are naturally best suited to me while other things are best suited to peers (who are also highly invested in LBE); not only is giving the reigns to others perfectly acceptable, sometimes it is the most efficient course of action for handling the scale of work we are doing. Along with that, I’m focusing on improving some of the skills I’m not as strong in, and refining my communication with staff and colleagues, program and analytics documentation, and attention to smaller details.