The road to Minneapolis

Keystoners prepare for conference
By T Martin

Sounds of rap and hip-hop ensue from the shelf stereo system. Kids in black T-shirts sweep and mop the cafeteria floor. Teens in burgundy or gray or blue T-shirts sort through the piles of red folders in front of them. Youths flock to the continental breakfast laid out for them, all the while chattering about this or that.

Adults in aqua T-shirts hurry everyone out of the cafeteria and up to the teen center of the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club, located at 18th Street and Hunting Park Avenue. The different colored T-shirts helped identify members and their advisors from the six Keystone Clubs of Philadelphia – Bridesburg, Frankfort, Germantown, Nicetown, West Kensington and Wissahickon.

This was the Boys and Girls Annual Keystone Club Conference, held Saturday, March 13th, and the teens attending it are preparing a select few to represent them nationally in Minneapolis from March 18-21.

At the national event, Keystone Club members from across the country gather in a different city each year to develop leadership skills, exchange ideas, debate and discuss current issues, and make friends. Each year, Keystoners select a national project for local Keystone Clubs to complete. The combined action of hundreds of local Keystone Clubs throughout the nation results in a project of national significance. The National TEENSupreme Keystone Conference is sponsored by the Taco Bell Foundation.

The local Keystone Conference was also a chance for the teens to unite against the violence that has of late dragged its leg through the area, even touching Simon Gratz High School just across the street.

Alan Beckett, program director of the Nicetown Club, welcomed attendees and introduced Nicetown’s Keystone Club president Dewayne “Cornbread” Harmon. Following his welcoming remarks, Clarence Miller welcomed guest speaker Thomas Hoffman, Chairperson of the Board of Directors for Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia. Refreshingly, Hoffman avoided talking about his accomplishments as CFO of Sunoco, but rather capitalized on the strengths and skills of the young participants in the room.

“Every one of you in this room has the potential to be a leader,” he encouraged them, citing four main qualities of effective leaders.

Young leaders defined
As he checked his notes, Hoffman also asked the teens what they considered to be important elements of good leadership. Many of them answered “respect” and “be positive,” two items from his notes. He also included courage and communication.

“I talked earlier about respect meaning you should listen when someone else is talking,” he reminded them. “It’s hard to learn when you’re the one doing all the talking!” Though he didn’t allow his position in life to cloud his perceptions about the urban children in front of him, he did answer questions about his role on the Board of Directors.

“The biggest thing we try to do is to raise money for the clubs… try to keep them going,” he said. “We don’t try to impose what happens day to day. We’re more about governance, trying to hire good staff to keep the clubs running smoothly.”

Answering a few more questions, and posing a few of his own to the youths, Hoffman wrapped up his keynote address and left the teens to the ice-breaker activities that Beckett organized in the club’s gymnasium.

Needless to say, the children were awake at most by 10 AM, and certainly not up to the energetic games designed to help them get to know one another better. It was up to club president Dewayne to break things up a bit with bursting energy and spunk throughout the morning that helped him get others motivated to participate. The “Samuri” games tested the teens’ alertness and ability to think on their feet, giving Frankfort Club’s Britney a moment to shine for her peers.

Teens heard inspiring remarks from City Councilwoman Donna Reed-Miller on unity of the Philadelphia community. Reed-Miller encouraged the youths to stay positive and to find ways to spread their positive attitudes in neighborhoods reeking with the stench violence and drugs.

Interestingly, the most recent and unfortunate chain of violent events – Peirce Elementary shooting, Simon Gratz student murder, shooting of the Police officer on 19th Street – all occurred in the Districts she represents at City Hall.

Reed-Miller also stressed the importance of youth input as City officials and community leaders seek resolution to some of the problems that teens face as they grow up in urban Philadelphia. She told kids about growing up around Germantown and Nicetown Boys and Girls Clubs; about how endeared the clubs have become to her; and about how entertainers and managers alike share the vision of club directors to bring positive messages to youths in the coming months. Her speech was met with acclaim as she received a “Keystone Club” T-shirt as a souvenir of her visit with the club.

Repping Philly clubs
Very much motivated by Reed-Miller’s words and hints at a future celebrity-studded concert in Philadelphia, the Keystoners made their way back to the gymnasium to work on the banner and roll call to represent Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia at the conference in Minneapolis.

Girls and boys split into teams to develop what they thought would be the best way to represent Philly for the duration of the national conference. Girls came up with a foot-step routine they wanted to try, while the boys worked up a march-type step and chant to “rock the house.” A third breakout group worked on positive lyrics for the roll call while a fourth group designed the teens’ banner for the trip.

Overall, however, some of the teens seemed to lack the energy to participate in the preparations. Some broke away from their assigned group, moped around the gymnasium and stood off in corners or the doorway, all the while complaining about how boring or “joe” the activities were.

The teens might not have had much fun at all if not for Dewayne’s constant mingling and charisma with members from all the clubs. Playing the perfect host, he managed to keep morale high for most of the group.

The only real independent interaction among the groups came during lunch, when youths sat with their groups, not separated by one of the six clubs they represented, but by random selection. Within their groups, they had to complete a Recognition Survey that included information like finding a Keystoner who knows someone in the military or finding a group member who is the youngest member of their family.

Just after lunch, the teens were invited to return to the teen center or to play basketball in the gymnasium. That spark ignited the energy they lacked all morning as the youths rushed away from their lunch table, squeezing through the narrow doorway and down the stairwell to the gymnasium. In the end, most of the teens in attendance just needed that lunch to give them the creative energy they needed to complete their tasks for the day and to present their banner and roll call by 3 PM.

Keystoning is the Boys & Girls Club Movement’s most dynamic teen program. Keystone Clubs are chartered, small-group leadership and service clubs for boys and girls ages 14-18. Keystoners elect officers and plan and implement their own activities in six areas: service to Club and community, leadership development, education and career exploration, unity, free enterprise and social recreation.

Club members and their advisors are eligible for nomination to steering committees which organize regional and national TEENSupreme Keystone Conferences attended by thousands of Keystoners each year. Each year, Keystoners select a National TEENSupreme Keystone Project for local Keystone Clubs to complete. The combined action of hundreds of local Keystone Clubs results in a service project with a national scope.