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Black Stories

YAAY Me, Inc: Supporting D.C. Communities

I am the Chief Operations Officer and Curriculum Developer at YAAY Me, Inc. (YMI), a non-profit that provides and manages several initiatives that serve youth, young adults, adults, and senior citizens. YMI serves over 2,500 people each year. 

Our staff primarily work directly in communities, providing services that focus on:

  • Mentoring;
  • Social development;
  • Violence prevention;
  • Violence intervention;
  • Educational enrichment;
  • Job readiness and job training; 
  • Entrepreneurship; and
  • Career exploration.

Participants in our programs receive life-changing instruction, assessment, and experience while fostering positive habits and attitudes. The leaders of these programs are primarily millennials, who use cutting-edge and results-oriented techniques to engage and support all those we work with at all levels. At YMI, we strive to serve young people and their families, guiding them to overcome obstacles and achieve goals by highlighting strengths and identifying weaknesses or growth opportunities.

I am a native Washingtonian, and since 2009, YMI staff have served hundreds of families in the Washington Metropolitan Area. The majority of these families reside in the most poverty-stricken communities in D.C. Many of the participants who enter our programs are experiencing homelessness and fear. We know of several stories where participants have finished our program and now have their own residences, make a living wage, and have become part of a safer environment.

I strive to advocate for residents in underserved areas, using my expertise in program development to address issues surrounding economic growth, financial literacy, and career preparation. I know firsthand the resilience and support that is necessary to overcome things like substance abuse and criminal infractions, and I draw on my own experience as I strive to advocate for residents who have similar experiences. 

One leader I want to recognize is Curtis “Curtbone” Chambers, a youth mentor and educator in D.C. He began selling drugs when he was 12 years old, driven in part by a desire to fit in with the culture and lifestyle of some of the people around him. He now encourages those he mentors in his hometown to “Learn yourself. Know yourself, so you can always adapt to any situation. Don’t let no peer pressure lead you to nothing. I don’t care what it is, be honorable to your word. However you walk, people are going to watch your walk.” He now has a podcast, “Curtbone TV,” on which he chats with various personalities about street culture, advice for young people, and works to change the narrative for youth.

At YMI, our hiring practices are a core—and unique—element of our work. Since 2009, over 80% of our staff, including managers and contractors, are individuals who have overcome immense odds to transition out of violent and destructive circumstances into lives defined by giving back to the community. Our board and leadership team have also mapped out a vision plan, which details the 40-year investment needed to end the problems we are working to address. 

Gun violence can be a direct result of the failed systems that undervalue, undermine, and under-resource communities in the United States, and gun violence prevention is one of the most important things that YMI is working on. The epidemic of gun violence impacts everyone in some way and at some time. You have two choices: You can choose to get involved with gun violence prevention before you are directly impacted, or you can wait until you have no choice but to deal with it when you experience it personally.

In 2022, YMI received an Everytown Community Safety Fund grant. The funds granted to us assisted us with the “No Slide Zone” movement we started to try to change the narrative around gun violence in the D.C. community. The funds also helped to supplement the cost of several YMI programs that serve victims and perpetrators of gun violence, and this funding was instrumental in hiring members of a development team to increase future funding opportunities for YMI. Ultimately, the Everytown investment has helped reduce violent crime and increase employment placements and partner referrals.

Although gun violence is an ongoing crisis, I feel hope when I look at the partners that are involved in the gun violence prevention movement and the success of the many individuals and communities that have been part of advocating for change. If the people across the country continue to stay the course, I am optimistic about the future success of the movement.

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