IS members represent nonprofits, foundations, and corporations engaged in every kind of charitable endeavor, with missions that reflect the nearly infinite ways of working for the common good.

New member Teen HYPE (Helping Youth by Providing Education), based in Detroit, MI, works with thousands of teens each year to empower the next generation of leaders through leadership development, educational enrichment, and learning through service.

We talked with Matthew Schmitt, Teen HYPE’s Manager of Mission Advancement.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your career path and how you arrived at your present position.

MS: I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, at the border of Southfield and Beverly Hills. I moved back to the city from Los Angeles about two years ago, and I was trying to listen in to the pulse of the city. I was working as a Lyft driver, and doing some teacher evaluation work. I would drive in the suburbs and people would reveal their misconceptions about Detroiters. And that became even more poignant to me when talking to people about Detroit teenagers. I also had previous experience in LA in nonprofit management. That’s all to say it was kind of a funny story how I applied to this job – Teen HYPE looked interesting to me, but the job they had open was for a sex education teacher…which is just not in my wheelhouse. I accidentally applied with LinkedIn’s easy apply tool, and ended up speaking to the Executive Director, Ambra Redrick. She agreed that the job I accidentally applied for wasn’t for me, but we spoke about my experience at the University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project, where I led improvisational workshops for incarcerated individuals.

They ended up having an opening for Manager of Mission Advancement, and that’s where I entered into this work. For teenagers in Detroit, a hard reality is that too many of their lives are touched by the prison system. So we started teaching students about the prison industrial complex, and we could see their wheels turning, where kids were starting to see the bigger forces at play here. We also started to see that there was a massive, gaping hole of loss, and recognized that this causes great disruption to community and family life here. Approximately 280,000 kids in Michigan have a parent in prison or on parole — that’s 1 in 10 kids. And that’s disproportionally high in cities like Flint and Detroit.

Q: Was there a day at Teen Hype you remember that was extraordinary?

MS: Seeing the stage production was very special. At the Thursday night performance, I decided I would have one of the students handle the resource table and I would actually watch the show. Within the first 10 minutes, the opening of the show goes dark and the audience is surrounded by all of the recordings of kids talking about how hard it is to visit their loved ones in prison. The play was staged like a support group with each person slowly telling their story, and as they narrate the story was reenacted behind them. One character’s mother was in prison for killing his father, who was abusive. At the end of the scene, we saw his mother reading a letter from her son and you see the toll her absence has had on his life. I made it a point to invite a lot of people I grew up with in the suburbs, and they got to see how heart-wrenching these stories are alongside the immense talent of these students. All the stereotypes about Detroit teenagers were really challenged – that was a good day.

Q: Describe some of the programs or services your organization runs.

MS: We had a really rich, powerful art show featuring incarcerated artists and then submissions from teens who have loved ones in prison. In schools throughout Metro Detroit, we offer interactive in-school programming and after-school programs that focus on mental and sexual health, safety, and self-esteem support. It was awesome to see young people move from reluctance to speak about these challenging issues, to seeing them debate and grapple with a new political awareness. It’s these moments of deepening their sense of the world that drives our work.

Q: What are you most excited about this year?

MS: We’re hoping to work with The Society for the Re-institutionalization of Storytelling in Detroit, though it’s very much in the beta stages. But I’m excited. They they put on a monthly show here at the Museum of African American History and they have a spot on the local NPR station, as well. We’re hoping to nurture the storytelling skills of our teens and really elevate our teens’ voices, such as through dialogue about local elections. We often hear from local politicians about how to change our education system, but we don’t hear directly from the people most affected.

Q: What is one of your favorite places to be in your community?

MS: One of my favorite things to do in Detroit is to go to the Detroit Historical Museum, which has an amazing exhibit. It’s called “Detroit 67: Perspectives,” and is about the uprising of Detroit in 1967. Some people call it a rebellion, some call it a revolt. I also have my own nonprofit called The Table Setters and a blog called Dismantling Whiteousness, and I like to go there to get inspiration. I then like to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and sit in the Kresge Court to write and reflect.

Learn more about Teen HYPE at www.teenhype.org.

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Types: Blog
Global Topics: Education, IS Member, IS Staff