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Sharing Stories of Race within our Community: 2023 Keystone Project

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By Solymar Estrella, BGCSDC Alum and Intern

Our roads are paved with stories about race and inequality. Bringing those stories to the surface bridges the gap between then and now, between the past and the present. Members of the BGCSDC “White Sands” Keystone Club recognized the power that these stories of the past held in understanding diversity while coming together for equity. Then they took action.

Keystone Club is Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s premiere character and leadership program that unites thousands of teens across the globe through community service, academic success, and career preparation.  Each year, BGCA hosts a National Keystone Conference to bring these members together from across the globe. Throughout the conference, Keystone members can engage and socialize with peers, explore relevant issues, and develop skills to support and enhance efforts in their local Boys & Girls Clubs and communities.

“Reaching Equity in our Diversity” was selected by BGCA as the National Keystone Project theme for 2023. With this in mind, members spent weeks brainstorming ideas while continuing to advocate for equity in their community. They gave back by volunteering with local non-profits like Salvation Army, All Faiths Food Bank, Senior Friendship Center, Harvest House, and more. In addition, they participated in BGCSDC’s 16th Annual Alternative Spring Break, where they volunteered with 11 local non-profit organizations and earned up to 30 community service hours.

As they closed in on a project concept, they took note of an activity that was happening at the Roy McBean Boys & Girls Club where members were decorating a door with various public figures whom they admired. As they presented their decorated door to their Club, members shared stories of how these figures impacted their lives. This inspired them to focus their project on the rich history of the Newtown community by identifying influential African American figures to tell their story and use those narratives to start a conversation on "Reaching Equity in our Diversity."

To kick it off, members researched African American public figures that have made a significant impact in the community, sent emails explaining their project, and set the stage for interviews to take place. Two well-known Newtown community leaders were chosen; Carolyn J. Mason, the first-ever African American Mayor, City and County Commissioner of Sarasota County, and Lem Andrews, a retired College and Career Advisor at Booker High School. The interviewees shared their life experiences while comparing their past to today’s cultural climate. Both the Roy McBean Club and the Lee Wetherington Club worked closely together with the Cinematography program to brainstorm questions, film the interviews, edit, and produce an insightful documentary that captures the theme of “Reaching Equity in our Diversity.”  Click to Watch Video

This year-long effort culminated in the opportunity to attend the National Keystone Conference in Dallas on July 20. Ten BGCSDC Keystone members participated this year thanks to a $1,500 grant from The Papa John’s Foundation in recognition of their outstanding Keystone Club National Project application. These funds helped defray conference expenses and will enable the teens to focus on project implementation efforts.  

Keystone plays an impactful part in the lives of many Club teens. Aundrayah M. shared; “This program gives me the self-confidence I need to lead discussions, group projects and participate in community events. Keystone has helped me find my voice and self-expression. I have also learned how to better network with peers and different individuals.” 

Another member, Cephora M., a participant in the Roy McBean Keystone program, shared what this year’s theme means to her; “reaching equity in diversity means the act of spreading and creating an environment where options and solutions can be reached without the stigma of race, gender, culture, and religion. Opportunities are on an equal playing field for those who’ve earned them. Education is an option to progress where your heart desires with no judgment. Let no one stop you from achieving your goals regardless of your background and keep on pursuing throughout life.”

We wish all of the Keystone Club members the best as they continue to advocate for their beliefs and incite change in the community.

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