Teens Transformed at TNT

Posted: October 30, 2018

YA!’s Daniel Roman Takes Us Inside


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Endia McCowan, Fremont High TNT youth leader


TNT kicked off the new school year by doing what it does best – making connections. Recruitment started in early September for both our Fremont and Castlemont high school sites and consisted of tabling, pizza parties, lunchtime enlistments, and classroom visits to spread the word. Initial turnout for the program exceeded all expectations – interviews numbered in the high double digits and we are seeing more than fifty students regularly attend our afterschool sessions.

Today, a group of Castlemont high school students noisily forms a circle in the middle of the room while a violence prevention educator from Youth ALIVE! writes the topic of the day on a whiteboard. The room is small, poorly ventilated, and tucked in the furthest corner of the campus, in a building used to serve newcomers and host cheerleading practice. It is the third official Teens on Target (TNT) program session and already you can hear the rumbling of students complaining about the heat, pestering staff members about the lack of variety in snacks provided, and ceaselessly questioning about when their first paycheck will arrive.

However, when session starts, all chatter ceases and the students focus. The topic is straightforward: When was your earliest encounter with violence? As we go in a circle and everyone takes turns answering the question, one is struck by a commonality: every single person in the room has experienced or witnessed some form of violence by the age of ten. There’s also a striking difference in demeanor: the students are so calm, so in tune and willing to listen to their peers; so willing to share and be vulnerable. So…connected.

It is at that moment you realize what TNT means to some of these students. TNT gives these young people an opportunity to be heard. It gives them the platform to talk about the things that they have to deal with on the daily and to speak their truth. To speak their truth to their peers and community, and through that inspire others to do the same in hopes that it will make a change and foster healing. Clearly this is a big reason why TNT is such an effective program. This is why the students keep coming back.

The new school year is shaping up to be one of TNT’s best. Within the first month, the program has facilitated twelve workshops at various Oakland

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Erickson Obasuja, a TNT youth leader at Fremont High

middle schools, reaching over a hundred students; participated in several community engagements, including a panel discussion on trauma at the Oakland Museum of California, which was moderated by comedian W. Kamau Bell and featured one of TNT’s star members, Armon Hurst, as a guest speaker; and is on track to more than double the total number of trainees and workshops from last school year.

The after-school program sessions have been amazing as well. As Endia McCowan, Fremont freshman and first year TNT member, explains, “I think TNT is helpful because we talk about things that we are going through.” Erickson Obasuja, also a first year TNT member, agreed: “The program is good because different people come together and share their various opinions and issues. And I find that interesting and good.”

TNT hopes to continue their productive streak through the New Year.