STORY #4: Fly By Light — The Program

by One Common Unity’s Program Director, Shaden Dowiatt 

Fly By Light (FBL) is a youth development program that weaves together the pillars of Artistic Expression, Social Emotional Literacy, Health and Wellness, Environmental Leadership, and Social Justice. In the FBL program, youth leaders have the space to express, grow, transform and heal. Fly By Light is unique because it does not shy away from the root of issues but rather connects the experiences of the young people with the realities of the communities and larger world around them. For example, we cannot look at food deserts in a neighborhood without connecting it to the implications of environmental racism and its connection to nutrition and community health. Through environmental leadership youth explore relevant topics related to environmental science and view the impacts of environmental issues in their neighborhoods through a social justice lens that ultimately connects back to the health and wellness of the youth, family and their local community. I share this example to illuminate the fact that we are all interconnected and a part of a larger ecosystem that we must understand in order to transform and heal. Fly By Light offers youth these connection points and opportunities to be leaders in their communities.

There are a myriad of ways that youth can benefit from the Fly By Light program. FBL offers youth some of the greatest tools for personal development, for example when they have the opportunity to hone in on the gifts of mindfulness, conflict resolution or nonviolent communication; they are better equipped to navigate relationships and challenges in their lives. We spend a considerable amount of time exploring social-emotional literacy skills; skills that are essential in life. Many youth have the opportunity to be leaders in the program, whether through leading a campaign, sharing their artistic talents or simply by facilitating activities in a chapter. These experiences are deeply impactful in their development.

Based on what I have witnessed and heard from the youth, Fly By Light offers young people a space to be their authentic selves in a judgment-free zone. Many would describe Fly By Light as feeling as they are among family. I cannot emphasize enough how rare of an environment FBL is in terms of having space to openly express their feelings and ideas, often through the magic of the arts, and carry their visions to greater things including social justice campaigns and artistic showcases. I have received ample feedback from school staff emphasizing how much youth appreciate the program because they can show up just as they are, something that is rare in schools. Truthfully, I do not want to speak for the youth, in the program we honor youth voice and I think what they have to say is far more important:

“I love Fly By Light because it’s a great and safe place for me to express myself and try out new things. I get to meet fun and interesting people. I describe it as a club that is chaotic in the most peaceful way. We’ll talk about something — like the pandemic and can give real feedback on what we were experiencing. Every now and then there will be a burst of silliness, and that’s one of the things I love about this club, it’s spontaneous and fun and inclusive of everyone. It’s a lot of different people sharing their opinions and having fun.” ~ FBL Youth Participant

“Fly By Light shows people that we can come together to do something great. For example, with the Organizing Troupe, we’re really being young activists. It’s just so amazing when I think about it, it’s like wow, this is something I get to be a part of. It’s bringing me to tears right now because I love it so much. It’s really important to show kids that it’s possible to have a space to fully be themselves.” ~ FBL Youth Participant

During the 2019-2020 school year, FBL was in all seven wards of DCPS – Ward 1: Cardozo, Ward 2: SWW, Ward 3: Oyster, Ward 4: Paul, Roosevelt, Ward 5: Perry, Dunbar, Browne EC, Ward 6: Eastern, Stuart-Hobson, Ward 7: Seed

The pandemic has been an interesting time for Fly By Light, but the one thing we know for sure is that youth desire the connection and community that come from the program. Many youth have shown up (virtually), week after week throughout the pandemic and really appreciate space to share their feelings, connect over virtual art prompts, share in mindfulness practices and discuss the issues that are relevant to their lives during this unprecedented season. Many of our chapters have even carried out social justice campaigns online! While the virtual space is different, the elements that are necessary for human connection continue there. Following the pandemic, Fly By Light will offer critical services for community healing. As school communities gather back together, sacred Fly By Light circles will offer space for reflection, healing and community building in a time when some of these connections have been severed.  I believe that this time has been challenging, but ultimately we exist in a world that will continue to stay rooted in programs like Fly By Light, whether online or in-person. Read how FLY BY LIGHT was birthed in STORY #3!

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