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Speed ontheBeat Speed ontheBeat Author
Title: Interview with Dominique Davis of The Youth Dreamers
Author: Speed ontheBeat
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The Dream House Today is a first on SpeedontheBeat.com, as today's interview doesn't focus on a recording artist, but instead a ...
The Dream House
Today is a first on SpeedontheBeat.com, as today's interview doesn't focus on a recording artist, but instead a social activist group based out of Baltimore. The Youth Dreamers Inc. is the dream of Baltimore teacher Kristina Berdan and nine Stadium school students brought to life. What they've done for their community is remarkable. And, as you know, anyone who's doing right by the community receives applause from me. With that said, I had a chance to sit down with one of the members of the organization, Dominique Davis, for a Q&A session about the organization, its goals, and a few nuggets about currents and future projects.

Speed on the Beat: What is your organization? (Location, purpose, etc.)

Dominique Davis: The Youth Dreamers, Inc. is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that's goal is decreasing the amount of youth-involved violence in the Coldstream/Homestead/Montebello (CHM) community by giving youth-positive outlets after school. These include employment opportunities, custom programming and giving youth ownership by helping in the management and administration of the Youth Center itself--as well as the overall core management of the organization.


SOTB: How long have you been in existence?

Davis: The YDs started about 12 years ago in 2001 at The Stadium School when nine youth were asked what kind of project they would like to work on for the year. Back in the [day], the Stadium School had project-based learning--even dedicating one day of the week to custom project classes. These projects allowed students to get out in the world and learn life skills and get involved. Youth Dreamers spawned from that.
Since declaring to build a youth-run youth center, Ms. Kristina Berdan [a teacher back then, and Teacher-Director of the program now) helped lead the students to finding, purchasing, fundraising, grant writing and designing the programs and workshops that were to be offered at the youth center. And what Ms. K couldn't manage, we reached out to get pro bono or little to no cost (our lawyers, architects, contractors, etc). Nine years after that and $400,000 in funding for renovations later the Youth Center was finally opened for its first year.


SOTB: How long have you been active in the project? What pushed you to it?

Group shot from the grand opening of The Dream
House in 2010
Davis: I have been a Youth Dreamer for 8 years now. Interestingly enough, I was a student in one of the first Youth Dreamers summer programs back in the 6th grade at The Stadium School. After switching my project class a million times during the school year, I ended up in Youth Dreamers. And I fell in love with the idea of having a voice in my community, renovating a house into a youth center and serving on a Board of directors, assisting in decision-making. And all this happened when I was about 13 years old. It was such a unique experience, I still work with the group today; I wouldn't be where I am without it.

SOTB: Tell me a bit more about your latest project?

Davis: In recent years, the change in educational climate and the push for higher test scores has made it hard for project-based organizations like the Youth Dreamers to get funding. With that said, we have tried to reinvent and redefine what Youth Dreamers can do in the community and with the house itself. Because of this--no matter where we go with funding or support--we have been writing a book for the past two years to document our successes and challenges of our organization as well as to teach people around the world the power of youth voice and how to nurture it and inspire change in the community. 
To show that project-based learning is an important tool and essential to enriching education for students. We also hope to draw some attention to the challenges of standardized tests and how they limit the potential of students and that without some revisions do more harm than good. We've done our research, read a ton of articles from Rethinking Schools [an educational newsletter] and there are teachers all over the country who are baffled by the push for standardized testing--being that they don't correlate to the curriculum they teach, they generally leave negative self esteem issues in academics in students, as well as they lack the life skills needed for students to go out and be successful citizens, and it takes time away from the regular curriculum. 
It has become so much of an issue now that Maryland ties student test scores into teacher pay and other states are considering the same. So, that is our current focus right now--fundraising to get our manuscript to the publisher by the end of the summer, printed and ready for sale by October. 

SOTB: How can someone contribute?

Group shot of some of the current "Youth Dreamers"
Ms. Davis (far left) is a rising junior at Frostburg
University and a graduate of Baltimore City College
Davis: Right now, spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign to raise the $10,000 we need to  publish our book. We designed many perks for donating as incentives.

SOTB: Can anyone become a member of the organization?

Davis: The Youth Dreamers generally always have an open door policy on volunteers and new ideas. We don't have anything formal going on due to funding. But, if you feel you have a good idea, or way to contribute feel free to email Teacher-Director Kristina Berdan at youthdreamer@hotmail.com

SOTB: Where can an interested party go to aid the group?

Davis: Go to http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/i-am-not-a-test-score to donate and learn more about the book! Watch a video explaining the project. Even better? Spread the word! We have 13 days left to raise $10,000.

SOTB: Where can we contact you & the organization?

Davis: Interested parties can visit www.Youthdreamers.org for more information. For contact with Ms. Berdan, please send an email to youthdreamer@hotmail.com. For submit information through mail, please make all envelopes out to:
The Dream House 

1430 Carswell Street 
Baltimore, MD 21218


SOTB: Any parting words?

Davis: This program has helped a lot of youth, including myself. I see it first hand everyday when I go to work. I have never met an "adult" (or youth, for that matter) who has walked through the doors of the Youth Center or spoke to one of my students or coworkers who was not blown away by the dedication, professionalism, determination, enthusiasm, passion and love that we provide and exude here.  If we teach anyone anything, I hope we teach them all how to appreciate and nurture the youth in their communities.

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