Dear Members of the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation:
The support of the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation has been vital in enabling Critical Exposure to empower low-income youth of color in D.C. by teaching them organizing and photography skills. We deeply appreciate all of the ways that you contribute to and strengthen our community.
Accomplishments during the past program year:
Funding from Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation supported our core youth programming, as well as our expansion efforts east of the Anacostia River. In 2015-2016, Critical Exposure provided a strong pipeline of youth leadership opportunities that successfully empowered participants to become effective advocates for positive social change. This pipeline resulted in two youth-led campaigns, one school-based and one citywide. The first campaign was led by students at Anacostia High School who focused on improving the quality of school meals. Students took a leadership role in determining how meals could be improved and presented their recommendations to DC Public School (DCPS) officials. While the campaign was organized by students from only one school, it has citywide implications as it seeks to impact the quality of meals served at schools across the district.
The second, citywide campaign was led by youth participating in Critical Exposure’s Fellowship program. The overall goal of the campaign is to end the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Students focused their efforts on impacting the new contract between DCPS and the Metropolitan Police Department. The campaign succeeded in securing commitments from both the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and DCPS to increase training for school security guards to improve their interactions with students and create a more positive school climate. The youth also won a commitment to develop a stronger accountability system for school security officers’ performance.
As part of the campaign, Fellows held multiple meetings with Chanell Autrey, Legislative Counsel for the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary, as well as key officials, including Janice Sullivan, the Contract Administrator for MPD, and Robert Stewart, Director of School Security for DCPS. Fellows shared their experiences and advocated for specific policy solutions that addressed their concerns. Fellows strengthened their case by surveying students and security guards from multiple high schools to broaden their perspective. Additionally, Fellows testified before DC City Council members to share their experiences, findings, and suggestions. As part of this testimony, Fellow I-Ra A. said, “Security guards should only follow the role given and not try to do anything other than their job, such as dragging students to class, locking bathrooms from students, and using excessive force to push them out of the school building. We are working on a proposal to change the security contract for the better. We ask for your support in helping fix this contract in order to make students feel comfortable in their schools and live up to their full potential.”
During the grant period, Critical Exposure took concrete steps to expand our programs in Ward 7 and 8. In the fall of 2015, Critical Exposure implemented a new program at Anacostia High School where we incorporated our curriculum into a journalism class to help students learn not just how to document stories, but also how to address the issues they identify. In the spring of 2016, we offered this program at Anacostia High School for a second semester.
As a result of hiring two new program staff in December, Critical Exposure staff now have increased capacity to build relationships with community members and organizations based east of the Anacostia River. Staff have begun mapping Critical Exposure’s existing connections in the community, including current and former students, school leaders, established youth-serving and arts organizations, and local community leaders and public officials. Staff members are also identifying additional prospective partners in Wards 7 and 8 for school- and community-based programs and will start developing additional relationships and recruiting interested youth in the upcoming months. Staff are currently coordinating summer photography and advocacy workshops with Project Create and Martha’s Table, providing youth living in Ward 7 and 8 with workshops that are taught by Critical Exposure’s most advanced youth leaders and alumni. Further, after an initial conversation with administrators at Ballou High School, we are hopeful that programming will be offered on-site at Ballou High School during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Impacting the lives of economically disadvantaged youth of color:
Critical Exposure hosts an Annual Spring Exhibit to display the photography and writing pieces of students. In June, we hosted the event at District Center at 555 12th Street NW, giving students the opportunity to engage the broader community with their photography. The event was titled “Break the Frame” and attended by more than 200 community members. Ben’s Chili Bowl’s generous food donations helped make this event a success. Here are remarks made by two CE youth:
“I’ve been involved with Critical Exposure (CE) for almost three years. When I first started, I was pretty quiet, didn’t say much, kept to myself, and honestly sometimes I still am on the quiet side. But now, I am standing before you speaking today. CE is where my voice has grown and continues to grow. In this space, I am not told what to think, and I am allowed to express whatever it is I may be feeling. At CE I have been many things: a student, an advocate, a facilitator, a photographer, an editor, and a friend.” – Nadia, a student at Trinity University and a Fellowship Alum
“I didn’t realize CE had an impact on me until recently. I didn’t know you could change issues, that the situation isn’t the problem. It’s how you respond to it. I learned how to speak up for myself, how to speak up for others, that you don’t have to suffer injustice, that you can change it.” – I-Ra, Fellowship Alum and now AmeriCorps member at Critical Exposure
Critical Exposure greatly appreciates the generous support of the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation. Together we will continue to develop a new generation of young civic leaders who have the creativity to imagine new solutions to old problems, the belief that they have the right to fight for better schools and stronger communities, and the skills to hold communities and public officials accountable for taking action. We have included examples of student photos and our Fellows’ project plan for holding school security guards accountable for reference.
Executive Director and Co-Founder