“Often when people think about low-income kids, they’re thought of as either part of the problem or as victims,” argues Zeke Cohen, founder of a Baltimore-based nonprofit focused on empowering young leaders.

“What if,” he asks, “we could shift that lens and show that our kids can be the solution?”

At UrbanPromise, we love this question because we firmly believe that our students will be catalysts for change in their neighborhoods, in this city, and in this nation. In fact, they have already started.

Each day, our high school StreetLeaders make a difference in their neighborhood as they lead the elementary school students who attend our afterschool and summer programs. Each day, I watch our StreetLeaders push back the forces of shame and disgrace that our younger students carry into camp.

Consider Osman’s story.

When Osman, a second grader from Honduras, walked through the doors of our AfterSchool Program in September, he was incredibly timid. His timidity appeared to stem from a lack of confidence in his ability to speak and read in English. He repeatedly refused to read aloud in English during homework and reading classes.

Six months later, our StreetLeaders crowned Osman the “King of Camp Joy.” This was part of a new UrbanPromise tradition, created by our StreetLeaders, where a camper is awarded the “king” or “queen” award each week for exemplifying the week’s character trait. This week’s trait was courage.

The reason Osman won the award? During a Readers Theater activity (where students read a written script in dramatic fashion), Osman had courageously read aloud—with great passion and expression!—in front of his peers.

As our StreetLeaders placed the king’s crown on Osman’s head, his face beamed with an unmistakable pride.

“I have even more courage now because I feel really proud of myself,” he told me later.

Wanting to know more, I asked Osman why he had grown so much this year. He pointed to Emi, one of our StreetLeaders, who teaches Bible class each week.

“Emi is my favorite because she is so nice to everyone. She teaches me about how much God loves us and how we should love people like that.”

It seemed Emi had profoundly influenced Osman’s plans for his future.

“One day I want be a StreetLeader so I can teach kids, too. Then I want to go to college because all the StreetLeaders go to college.”

After that?

“I want be a pastor,” Osman smiled, “so I can teach people that God is good and that He loves them.”

So because of Emi’s encouragement and the assurance of God’s unconditional love, Osman’s self-doubt has been replaced by self-worth. Thoughts of worthlessness exchanged for feelings of worthiness.

And so I invite you to see our students not as victims of poverty nor as part of society’s problems, but instead as the very leaders who will fight for equity and expand God’s kingdom of justice, hope, and peace here in Charlotte.

Thank you for generously giving of your time, encouragement, and resources to UrbanPromise Charlotte so that students like Osman and Emi have the opportunity to grow into the unique leaders our community needs.

Grace and peace,