Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute – Summer 2020

The Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute is one of our core programs. For several weeks each summer, local youth come together at the Myers Residence to steep themselves in the past, present, and future, and leave better equipped to become agents of change for a more just world. Here’s what we’ve been up to this summer!

Environmental Justice

In the first week, we wrote a letter to the mayor and created an art project. The subject of the letter and art project were the findings from two local parks in the redlined area of the Arbor Hill district. For the first week, we developed a clearer understanding of the concept of environmental justice in order to identify it in our own lives and use the language in our letter. Later that week, we discussed identity and intersectionality, or the different ways that identities can cross and what this means to us. Then we discussed local parks in our area and listed which parks we would like to visit and document. For the second week, we learned how to use a mapping program called ArcGIS and its related app, Collector, in order to map out our local parks. We learned that this program is in the public domain, free to use, and has simple icons that make mapping trees, benches and pathways simple for the purpose of our project. We narrowed down our list to the two parks we wanted to visit, and on Thursday we visited Swan Street park using our mapping app. When we came back we discussed what we liked about the park and what we wanted to see improved. We are ready to go into this week starting our art project and designing our letter, and looking forward to visiting our next park!

Food Justice: Eating History – Feeding Mind, Body and Soul

We discussed our favorite foods and the significance food has in our lives. Over the week, we discussed historical dishes, specifically foods of the African diaspora, and how we can learn history with food culture. We also learned more about the significance of the peanut and George Washington Carver’s contributions. We got a taste of wild plants and learned how food grows all around us, even right below our feet in urban areas. We learned about healthy diets and food deserts, social media use, and exercise in our lives. We chose our legacy project and decided to plant blueberry bushes as our contribution to the Myers Underground Railroad site. Last week, we started off by cooking a traditional West African peanut stew, discussing the ingredients and history of the recipe and sharing with the other groups. We were really surprised at how good it was, even though it included unusual ingredients that we didn’t expect to taste good together! Later in the week we had a discussion on where the ingredients for our favorite foods come from, how to read food labels and the “hidden” ingredients in food as a food mapping project. For the rest of the week we researched the value of blueberries for the property and discussed how to further the project for later in an upcoming week. This week we are looking forward to our field trip to a local restaurant, Umana, where we will eat internationally inspired food, and discuss how food makes communities stronger and healthier in many ways.


In the first two weeks of the dramatic workshop we worked on developing our narratives based on experiences and interests in our lives. Initial focus discussions revolved around the educational system, pre- and post- COVID-19. How learning was different – for better or for worse – and key takeaways from experiencing both forms of contact. We found this discussion to be a springboard topic for future workshops. 

Marqui, Jazai, and Qua’Zeek, all avid gamers, found common ground while discussing their varied perceptions of space. The piece they are working on sagely relates gaming reality culture to real reality culture. Tanesa F’s three-character piece focuses on spending personas – the spendthrift and the buyer – and the grappling that comes from the strain of everyday social and political norms. Roqia Z’s monologue looks at past notions of freedom and how they relate to the contemporary model; she has also taken the lead on cinematography related to the documentation of the production.

With the last two weeks of programming underway, we are working intently on fine-tuning narratives, and prepping for the end of session performance/reading of their respective pieces. Who likes theatre? We do!

Enrichment Fridays

The first Friday of the program, we were greeted by Paul and Mary Liz Stewart, who were delighted to take us on a tour of the Myers Residence. We split into two groups, one led by Paul and the other by Mary Liz, to tour the grounds and interior of the Residence. It was important to them that we know the history of the space while we worked here, and gain as much information as possible from our stay. On the tour of the grounds, we were able to learn more about the history of the structure of the residence, and the restoration of the property. Many of us were in awe when Mary Liz showed us pictures of what the overgrown lot looked like when the property was purchased. We also took a tour of the gardens and learned more about when and why things were planted. 

Inside, Paul talked about the life of Stephen and Harriet Myers, the residents of this site, and the Superintendent of this Underground Railroad location. We learned more about how each room functioned and who was here before us. Paul and Mary Liz put an emphasis on how knowledge is power. 

For last Friday’s enrichment we invited Lisbeth Calendrino as our guest speaker for the afternoon. Lisbeth, a powerful motivational speaker and entrepreneur in the Capital Region, gave a speech on how you can start a business at any age. Equipped with a full business plan, she gave us tools, tips and tricks on how to appeal to customers, creating a product or service that is in demand, and how to shadow skilled people in your field to learn more. We then broke off into groups and came up with ideas on interests in our own lives that we could start a business from. Lisbeth gave us ideas on where to start and who to connect with in our area. She ended the day with a few giveaways and well wishes for our future endeavors.