What is the Youth Alchemy Project?

The Mercer Brotherhood has been provided a seed grant from the City of Oakland General Services department, in partnership with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, to create a series of introductory workshops and outreach performances in classrooms, auditoriums and schools and spaces for youth in and around Oakland California from January to March. 

Youth Alchemy Workshops will take place for ten hours each week in over ten sites from January to March 2020, providing a total of 60 healing arts interventions. This initial series will conclude with a film screening and Q&A that captures and summarizes the series, including work and feedback of students and youth advocates and other participants.

Leo Mercer alongside Bree Decker (USC) and the late Dr. Prince White (UPM) discussing barriers to the current education system.

Principles

The aim of the Mercer workshops is to promote healing by showing youth how to understand and be accountable for their behaviors and the behaviors of others. Classrooms and youth audiences in every setting need encouragement and support with self esteem, need help in building a healthy identity, including how they see themselves and their hometown of Oakland. 

Workshops spotlight the strategies and encouraging changes taking place through cultural expression and restorative justice arts and practices, how to connect and who and what can support them. Rather than enforcing the negative mainstream culture, the Mercer Brotherhood sheds the light on an Oakland that is rooted in love, solidarity, restorative justice, and community healing. These are valid, critical and urgent messages.

We Will Cover

Knowledge of Self (courage to believe in oneself)

Rethinking Current Educational Systems (#currencyofthemind)

School to Prison Pipeline (pitfalls and alternative possibilities)

Social Issues | Current Events (how to engage, how to impact)

Restorative Justice Practices | Conflict Resolution (new strategies)

Hip Hop and Other Forms of Art as Healing (#medicinegame)

How Different Cultures Are and Can Be Connected

Challenges of Displacement/Gentrification | How To Show Up In One’s City

What The Youth Aspire To Learn And Create

Much More

What do the Youth Get out of it?

What Do Instructors, Teachers, and Facilitators get out of it?

What does Government Agencies Get out of it?

Rather than wait for the criminal justice system to fail us, the Mercer Brotherhood Youth Alchemy Project proposes to create a framework for organizing youth at each of the sites and schools to work and train with Restorative Justice Healing and Conflict Resolution Practices. Youth can and need to be given the tools to work together to constructively impact the challenges they face in their daily lives. Mercer collaborators will lead Tier I Restorative Justice Community Building Circles at each and every site commissioned for Youth Alchemy Workshops. Interested youth will be provided stipends as “Circle Keepers” and continue to lead circles, work with teachers and administrators to de-escalate conflict, and provide the capacity to build bridges and create a stronger community. The intention is to help shift the behavior and the process from the overly punitive approach currently in place in public schools and agencies in Oakland. When curiosity and capacity are high, there is little room for conflict. Youth will have better opportunities to connect with not only each other, but teachers, administrators, family members and their communities at large. Additional benefits:

-peace of mind

-clear mind/critical thinking

-belonging, meaningful interactions 

-alternative styles of learning

-curiosity

Better access to their students. It will be easier to “teach” or facilitate youth with standardized education or “California A-G requirements.” There will be little need to diagnose troubled youth (I.e. ADHD), but assist in their healing via education.
Intervention & Conflict Resolution. When curiosity and capacity are high, there is little room for conflict. Youth will have better opportunities to connect with not only each other, but you.

Youth Alchemy Workshops address and serve those most negatively impacted by system injustice. A broad network of front line activists, scholars, health practitioners, elected officials, agency staff and formerly incarcerated experts and others support classroom learning and serve as guest speakers to share their experiences and expertise. Working together this program encourages and identifies opportunities for community healing as well as shares strategies for working to bridge the implicit bias from which our polarized communities suffer. In the face of continual and dramatic challenges, people of color struggle to adapt and surrender or fight to resist continuing gentrification and displacement. These workshops are designed, rather, to support teachers and administrators as they work to strengthen community connections, create bridges and provide inspiration and guidance to encourage youth involvement and participation in Oakland’s economic, social, political and cultural scene. Additional benefits include:

-Better Access/Reaching Students
-Support With Classroom Culture/Conflict Resolution
-Better Scores Because Youth Are Focused.
-Strategies That Encourage Youth Leadership

Strong, strategic, long-term, and trusting relationships between marginalized people and partners are vital to advancing equity. Careful listening and caring persistence are needed to transform deeply rooted issues such as racism, violence and trauma. Innovative approaches such as Restorative Justice Healing Circles establish the fundamental elements that allow trust and accountability to thrive. For trust to flourish, relationships must recognize and share power, values and strengths, be rooted in mutual interests and decision making, and allow for authentic participation of everyone. 

The Canadian Department of Justice recently published a Meta-Analysis of a literature review over the last twenty-five years and presents its inspiring analysis here: (https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/jsp-sjp/rp01_1-dr01_1/p8.html)

The authors relayed the following: Traditional criminal justice is formal, punitive and adversarial. Rather than retribution, many consider restorative justice as a valid alternative. Compared to traditional approaches, restorative justice is more successful at achieving its goals: improving victim-offender satisfaction, increasing offender compliance with restitution, and decreasing the recidivism of offenders. Studies are showing that restorative programs were significantly more effective. 

Teachers, counselors, lawyers, social workers, police and sheriff staff are often ill equipped for the needs and challenges presented, including the persistent issues of low self worth. Most people despair and dissociate given they are provided piecemeal support. The Youth Alchemy Project serves as a progressive and constructive approach. The intention is to help shift the behavior and the process from the overly punitive approach currently in place in public schools and agencies in Oakland.

Context

It is critical now more than ever for us to #ChangeTheNarrative to recognize the youth who care about their community and include their voice and passion to serve a restorative justice practice for constructive social change. The Youth Alchemy project will reinforce confidence and provide incentive. In the process of coming together to restore relationships, the community is also provided with an opportunity to heal, reconstitute and strengthen itself through the reintegration of “victims” and “offenders”. Our young people will engage in exercises and opportunities to master expression, take leadership in their community and tap into critical thinking; the importance of learning and action. Oakland youth can and will stay out in front if we provide the environment for learning and healing and help them bring their voices and solutions into the future.

Leo Mercer (bottom right) at Melrose Leadership Academy, 6th Grade

Conclusion

The Mercer Brotherhood exists to share how Hip Hop can and should play a pivotal role in helping youth to take back and claim the power to heal, celebrate and share expression and work for justice, particularly for the lives of the marginalized and disenfranchised. The Youth Alchemy Project is Mercer Designed Workshops and performances are delivered in and around every point of the public square: classrooms, youth centers, non-profits, agencies, departments, arts spaces, festivals, conferences, downtown sidewalks, squares, protests and marches. The objective of these activities is to deliver on the promise that Oakland youth can heal and deal with their challenging conditions through understanding the importance of gaining and developing knowledge, or “currency of the mind.” Each workshop or presentation includes a lineup of energizers, icebreakers, conversations, videos, and hip hop samples as a healing practice; highlighting the potential for cultural, artistic and educational value of hip hop, which is typically not seen nor heard, and certainly not taught in schools. The Mercer Brotherhood helps youth understand the value of the eccentric or individual expression and sense of their self worth, that they can change the mainstream narrative and play a part in creativity, cultural awareness and positive change.

Evaluations

Each workshop and performance will include several approaches to evaluate and reinforce positive strategies. Feedback from teachers, site personnel, students and family members will be solicited through live feedback, written surveys, talk-backs after sessions and performances, online questionnaires among other. Past comments have identified strengths and helped shape future sessions. Key questions relate to the fundamental objectives of our workshops and responses include:

“I’ve learned we can all be there for eachother instead of putting eachother down”

“Leo has taught me that we can hold protests (self or group) for the things we care about. As long as we learn how to stand and hold them.”

The love, connection and involvement is key to a much more uniformly awoken and positive society. I myself have begun to put things in a more positive light with my own music by just associating myself with the Mercer Brotherhood.

“The message is clear and to the point. Love, knowledge and appreciation. These cats are going places. Everyone should listen to the music and follow the movement. Become a part of it to be an even bigger supporter.”

We can socialize with one another and try to understand and learn from each other.

Key Sponsors of 2020 Youth Alchemy Workshops

#TractTrust | tranquilityRx | Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth | Urban Strategies Council | Oakland Unite | Regina’s Door | My Brothers Keeper Alliance  | Obama Foundation | Hip Hop 4 Change

We have received funding to carry out these workshops in Oakland and beyond. We are booking fast. If you are an Oakland organization a part of the public square, and want your youth or staff to be provided these workshops, please fill out this form. If you have any questions, our email and number is at the footer of this page.