Ferguson Youth Initiative's mission is to empower teens from Ferguson and the surrounding areas to become productive, positive and contributing members of their community.
This year FYI held its annual banquet which gives the organization an opportunity to showcase the youth’s involvement and their ideas to the broader community.
The theme was “All Hands In” to emphasize the importance of everyone working together to support the young people throughout their journey. FYI celebrated its collaborative works and achievements to #SupportYoungPeople with local community leaders, parents, business owners, community residents, organizations, and of course, Young People.
This youth-centric evening was filled with celebration through music, recognitions, and talks from individuals who, in some way, have contributed to, or been impacted by the work and mission of the Ferguson Youth Initiative.
This year's keynote speaker was Life Arts very own Brian Owens.
Owens began his keynote by leading the crowd in song. Lyrics that sung "The journey to justice will always be fought, so let's fight the real enemies, hatred and greed."
"I am a fan of the Ferguson Youth Initiative." Owens begins. He was introduced to the organization by his former neighbor of 10 years, Gail Babcock. "My wife and I are choosing to live in Ferguson, we now live in the house that Gail Babcock lived in."
Owens goes on to say "Ferguson isn't just a byline it's our city and it’s a city that has birth greatness. The greatest capital we have in this city right now is our young people and the greatest investment we can make is in our young people."
Owens says in 2014 and 2015, "something that would bother me was that everyone wanted to come into Ferguson and give us what they thought we should do. When I would go out on tour and people would ask how they could help, I would tell them to support FYI. I always make sure people are aware of my faith my family and my Ferguson."
He goes onto say "Every city has problems, every city has tragedies, but I don’t know if every city has a FYI."
In keeping with the theme "All Hands In", Owens spoke about how working together can always get goals completed faster. He used the familiar example of his children cleaning up around the house on Saturday mornings. "The overall interest is getting the house clean, not completing your individual task. I'm trying to teach my children that things go a lot faster when everyone chips in, so that they can get back to playing their PlayStation."
He takes this idea a step farther with the notion that the building of community starts with the mindset that you have to be concerned about others. "You have to chip in and be all hands in." He continues, "Do not look only to your own interest but also to the interest of others. If we are so foolish that we believe we can strive by ignoring the interest of others we are fooling ourselves."
Owens recalls the biblical story of Nehemiah. The walls of his beloved city were down. "A city without walls is vulnerable." Owens says. "To me the greatest message in this story is that the people of the city began working to rebuild the wall themselves." They worked day and night. With a spear in one hand to protect themselves from their enemies and a brick in the other they restored the wall in 52 days. "It's because everyone had their hands in and there was a common interest to reconstruct the wall."
"Today we must recommit to all hands in with our spears up building a wall of protection around our young people." says Owens "We must be all build a wall of protection around our young people; our children are not our future they are our now and if you decimate the children of a culture we will have no future."
Owens states "My encouragement to you is to let us all be inspired by the greatness of these young people and God and to make an effort to look upon the interest of others."
In closing Owens ends with Dr. Martin Luther King's Nobel Peace Prize Speech. "with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history."