Over the course of the 2016-2017 academic year, the Lehigh University’s Africana Studies Program organized and implemented the William R. Scott Rites of Passage Program with our NEH community partner Greater Shiloh Church in Easton, PA. Our goal was to develop a public-facing, community-engaged initiative that would benefit the youth of the Lehigh Valley. Deacon Harold Levy and Dr. Omaris Zamora, our Visiting Assistant Professor, took leadership roles in building this initiative with support from both the Greater Shiloh staff and Africana Studies faculty.
We worked together to create a youth-centered curriculum for a Rites of Passage program. The goal of the program was to provide youth with important tools for their development through adolescence into young adulthood. Rites of Passage Programs provide youth with tools of for self-empowerment and important insights necessary for becoming agents of change in their community. We decided to name the program after [the late] Professor William R. Scott in order to honor a pioneer and trailblazer for both the Africana Studies Program at Lehigh University and in the Greater Shiloh Church community as well. Dr. Scott is the founding director of the Africana Studies Program who also helped to write and narrate the history of The Greater Shiloh Church.
The program took place during the month of March with a total of seven interactive workshop sessions held at Greater Shiloh Church in Easton on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. We had 21 youth participants ranging from the ages of 13 to 17 who came to joins us each week eager to learn, engage Africana Studies faculty and community leaders.
To culminate this transformative journey, Greater Shiloh and Lehigh Africana Studies organized a day trip to Philadelphia on Saturday, March 25th where the youth visited the National Constitution Center, the African American Museum, and ended the day with a tour of WHYY Studios where News Works produces a range of public programming including Dr. Peterson’s podcast, “The Remix”.
On Sunday, March 26th we held a formal ceremony at Greater Shiloh Church to publicly acknowledge our youth participants and introduce them to the community as its newest active members. To celebrate their successful completion of the program we hosted an afternoon lunch for the youth participants, their families, and those who supported the Rites of Passage program. At the celebration many families expressed their gratitude as well as their potential involvement in planning next year’s program. Many young participants expressed interest in becoming leaders in next year’s program and keeping in touch with Africana Studies faculty for mentorship going forward.
As we conclude this year’s inaugural William R. Scott Rites of Passage program, we are already preparing for ways to make it better by expanding it, and finding ways to make it sustainable into the future. We witnessed the growth and interest of the youth and their families in this public-facing initiative and we look forward to continue this project among others with our NEH partner Greater Shiloh Church.