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2022 Recap: The Black Youth Empowerment Program!



This year, the Black Youth Empowerment Program welcomed its second cohort of high school students from across the Central Valley to engage in a 5-week virtual program!


An often neglected group in the Central Valley is the Black youth population. Making up approximately 8.3% of the San Joaquin Valley (The 2020 U.S. Census), Black & African-American individuals are among a growing population constantly facing racial and societal stressors with little access to resources and support from their communities.


The deep rooted history of racism and anti-blackness in the Central Valley, oftentimes resulting in traumatizing racialized experiences, has created a hostile environment for Black youth. The added pressure of disproving generalized stereotypes along with economic, political, and societal factors of everyday life can have a significant effect on the emotional and physical well-being of these students.


In response to this need, the founders, Julianna Swilley and Adrienne Diaz, developed a space for Black Youth to learn, discuss, and connect with the Black community in the Central Valley and the Black Youth Empowerment Program was born.


The Black Youth Empowerment Program is a collaborative partnership between ExpreArte Cultural Wellness Collective and Central Valley Scholars. The program is a starting point for youth to create a network of Black leadership across the Central Valley, and advance the wellness, education and empowerment of the Diaspora.


The program is focused on the following three goals:

The program provides a unique blend of self-exploration & community building through an artistic lens all while analyzing the intersectionalities of the Black experience, specifically in the Central Valley. Over the course of the 5 weeks, this year’s cohort engaged in the following sessions:

  • Introductions & Terminology

  • Acknowledging Racial Trauma

  • Poetry Jam (ft. Ariana Mikel)

  • Then & Now: Black History in the Central Valley

  • Afrofuturism & Civic Imagination

  • Art Making Workshop

  • Taking Care of Me (ft. Monique Hall)

  • Community Care (ft. Monique Hall)

  • Black Music & Fashion (ft. Genesis Fortner)

  • Final Project Presentations

Throughout the program, students participated in open discussions exploring their identities, experiences, and creative interests. BYE follows a student-led learning model, which gives students agency to individualize their own learning experiences. While the structure of the program remains the same, the curriculum content changes with each cohort.


In addition, students worked on a creative project that asked students to produce an artistic work such as a short story, a series of poems, a painting, a photographic essay, a collage, a sculpture, a musical composition, a film or video, etc., in response to a topic discussed in the program.


Program scholar Yeti Fagbule's (She/They/He) final project celebrating Black beauty and femininity.

This project served as a reflection of students' personal growth and learning throughout the program. This year’s projects ranged in a variety of topics and forms, including paintings, videos, and multimedia art (as seen above and below).



In the final session, each student presented their projects to their peers and members of the Central Valley Scholars team.


To recognize for their time and dedication, students received two care packages which included the following:

  • $250 award

  • Two Books (Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America, Ibi Zoboi & Black Boy Poems, Tyson Amir)

  • Personalized Framed Art Prints

  • Journal

  • Planner

  • Art-making materials

  • Candles

  • Snacks

  • Central Valley Scholars merchandise

Student Demographics & Feedback


The demographics of our students are as follows:

  • Primarily from Fresno County

  • One-third of participants identified as being LGBTQIA+

  • 80% of students were LMI (i.e. low to median income)

  • And of course, 100% of our students were Black and/or African American

We had students complete pre and post surveys discovering their experience and knowledge pertaining to themes we touched upon in the program. We asked them a series of questions about their comfort having racial conversations, if they had a network of Black leaders and resources, their knowledge about certain topics around Black culture and identity, and more.


We noticed our scholars came in with a higher level of knowledge about racial identity, Black history, Black arts and culture, and mental health wellness. However, after participating in the program, we saw increases of 15%-35% in knowledgeability in each category. Being able to have this space to build upon their own understanding of their racial histories and identities allowed them to better reflect and engage with curriculum throughout the program.


We saw a similar shift when asking students about their comfort in engaging in conversation about race. When asked before their participation in the program, on a 5-point scale from very uncomfortable to very comfortable, scholars were either somewhat comfortable or very comfortable. After participating, we saw scholars had shifted into that very comfortable category, showing their security and confidence in having those more difficult conversations.


When asked about what they gained from the program, students said they gained...

Lastly, 100% of our participants would recommend our program to their peers, demonstrating the growing need and interest for the Black Youth Empowerment Program.


Looking Towards the Future


With the continued success of the program, the Black Youth Empowerment Program is set to continue next year, with applications opening in late March of 2023. We are excited to welcome another cohort and continue empowering Black youth in the Central Valley!


Group photo of one of the Black Youth Empowerment sessions.

Upon reflection, Julianna Swilley, the founder and director of the program, states, “It’s truly a space of learning and growth, even for me. Each year, students come with an invigorating passion to learn and support their own communities. I continue to be inspired by their resilience and creativity.”


A special thank you to our co-facilitator, Monique Hall, and our intern, Ariana Mikel for their hard-work and dedication to the program!


Meet Our Partners


ExpresArte Cultural Wellness Collective centers the voices of folks of color as they co-create programs and experiences that infuse our organizing and advocacy spaces with healing and hope. They address the root causes of trauma by giving people a chance to reclaim their culture, cultivate their creativity, and continue their healing journey. To learn more about ExpresArte and their work, please click here.



Stay Connected


To learn more about the Black Youth Empowerment Program, click here. If you would like to support our organization in continuing programs like this one, click here. For questions about this article or the Black Youth Empowerment Program more generally, please contact us.

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