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National Rites of Passage Conference to empower youth and community

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“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” is a quote made famous by author Lewis Carroll who wrote Alice in Wonderland.

Cleveland native Paul Hill, Jr. wants to make sure youth are on the RIGHT road to success and he hopes a youth conference this weekend near the nation’s capitol will be a start.

The National Rights of Passage Institute (NROPI), will have its Youth and Community Building Conference, July 19-21, at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore, Maryland. Hill founded NROPI in Cleveland in 1993.

I talked with him about the organization and the conference.

One of the conference highlights is Ms. Shirley Jaco, a featured speaker and mother of Grammy Award winning hip-hop artist and philanthropist Lupe Fiasco. Ms. Jaco will speak on the topic of “Raising Lupe Fiasco: Successful Parenting Strategies for Nurturing the Genius of Our Youth”.

While NROPI was founded in Cleveland, Hill says the reason for the national conference being held in Baltimore is because of the city’s rich African American culture. One of the city’s gems is the museum where the conference is taking place.

The premise of Rites of Passage, Hill says, is a process to regenerate the community. “We want to operate from a holistic perspective, parts of an entire family—the males, females, uncles, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents. All of those parts have to be functioning and well,” Hill stressed.

The conference theme, "Exploring Our Passage to Purpose," will bring together over 200 youth participants, adult youth advocates, and the foremost experts and scholars on rites of passage in North America.

Hill believes that too often our youth are on the wrong road because adults don’t assume their necessary roles to lead them. “When you look at seasons of life--conception, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and the stage of an elder--you have to ask a question, ‘who am I’?” Hill said. “The way you answer that question at each stage is how you go through your season. Too many of us have not progressed beyond adolescence. The emphasis today is placed on staying young and not growing old.”

Hill emphasizes that Rites of Passage is a foundational process that is continuous and ongoing.

In the wake of George Zimmerman being acquitted of murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, I asked Hill if this case amplifies the need for Rites of Passage, to which he said no and stressed these points:

  • Rites of Passage as practiced by the National Rites of Passage Institute and is not a strategy for reacting to the madness of a sick man [Zimmerman] or society. It is a stand-alone imperative and strategy for the regeneration of a people and community.
  • Rites of Passage is a process and not a "color of the day" program for a perennial issue/problem. "Color of the day" driven policies/programs are short-lived.
  • Rites of Passage equips and provides participants with a sense of identity, a sense of history and a sense of struggle so they won't experience an identity crisis and/or be confused when it comes to toxic situations and contemporary struggles.
  • Rites of Passage gives you a context relative to victories and struggles of the past as a frame of reference for problem solving and decision-making.
  • Rites of Passage gives you the behavior from the perspective of I am, Because We are, Therefore I am; it is not about "I Am, because I am".

However, Hill says he was not surprised by the "not guilty" verdict. "The verdict was inevitable based on the sickness of American society relative to conscious (overt) and unconscious (covert) racism and institutionalized racism. Trayvon Martin was racially profiled, stalked and murdered," Hill said. To critique this case, he adds, would be like criticizing the entire United States Constitution.

During the three-day Rites of Passage conference, July 19-21 in Baltimore, participants will focus on making the community better as they travel the road with purpose. For more information on the organization and the conference, click here.

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