Last Saturday, Grow Dat hosted our seventh annual graduation. The day was too rainy for graduation on the farm, so we pulled off a last-minute location change to the beautiful Ashé Cultural Arts Center. The space turned out to be the perfect setting to share a delicious meal together (catered by the wonderful Neyow's!), listen to live performances by the Cole Williams Band and local DJ Carlos Grant, and honor the hard work of youth. Families, staff, youth, and community members came together to celebrate the 44 crew members and 6 Assistant Crew Leaders who completed our spring leadership program and exhibited transformational growth over the course of their time working and learning together this year.
At Grow Dat, youth participate in the leadership program in four family-like units called crews, headed up by four Crew Leaders. At graduation, youth broke into their crews and invited parents and family members along so they could share in the camaraderie and deep relationships formed during their work at Grow Dat.
Head Crew Leader Asia-Vinae Palmer mentioned that this added a special touch to the celebration this year. “During graduation, we came together to show our appreciation for our young folks. Breaking into each crew allowed parents to hear from each crew leader how their kids had grown over the program. I feel a strong sense of community and am confident that our young people will be involved in alumni activities in the coming years. We really finished the year strong.”
Another highlight of the ceremony was honoring one crew member from each crew and one Assistant Crew Leader with the Metamorphosis award for their significant growth over the course of the program. We awarded crew members James, Vick’shawn, Jamaica, and Maxwell, and Assistant Crew Leader Alex, a farm share membership as a sign of appreciation for their work and leadership at Grow Dat.
The strengths of this year’s leadership program were evident in the sense of pride youth showed in their work as everyone celebrated a successful year. “Youth did so much this year—from growing food on the farm, to working together in teams, to hosting so many community members during our community lunches, and so much more,” Program Manager Glenn Caston said. “Our young people have gained a deep analysis around what food justice is, and it is quite evident in their work. Most of all, youth came together collectively from diverse backgrounds and created friendships and relationships they will cherish for the rest of their lives. It has been so inspiring to see the youth in our program work together across difference.”
During the summer at Grow Dat, we cover crop our fields to renew the soil and take a break from our program, but staff and fellows will be busy evaluating and planning for the upcoming program cycle. The Advanced Leadership Program begins in September, when recent graduates will return to the farm in tiered leadership roles and prepare for the Leadership Program to begin again in January. “I feel we had a really strong year, and we are in a great position to have an even stronger program next year,” Glenn said.