Our history stands on experiential roots and wisdom from living, working, surviving, and being educated in poor urban communities in New York. As we continue to live thru the destruction of failed social policy and state violence, H.O.L.L.A! is a story of multiple narratives, personal and collective experiences, critical dialogues, failures, and transitions. Our stories involve the pain of imprisonment, and a revolutionary belief in ourselves, our communities, the youth and a new tomorrow.
The Co-Founders of H.O.L.L.A! met in Otisville, a New York State Correctional Facility. While in Otisville Correctional Facility, we worked together diligently for three years (until many of the co-founders beginning returning to their communities) to develop an analysis to describe and better understand our individual and collective journeys into the injustice/punishment system. Many of us experienced being pushed out of school, living in disinvested communities, participating in and surviving interpersonal, communal, and domestic violence. Many of us were serving extensive prison sentences before/by our 21st birthdays.
Despite the negative public depiction and narrative of us and other Black and brown youth from poor, inner city neighborhoods, we all understood that we did not belong in cages, separated from our families, and communities. More specifically, we knew prison was no place for the youth of our communities. We were inspired to collectively develop programs with the communities we came from to resist the prison industrial complex and to promote youth leadership development.
Beginning in 2006 as a Young Scholars correspondence program in a New York State Correctional Facility, we sought to communicate with youth from our communities by reaching out to middle and high schools, churches, detention centers, and the people/relationships we developed from our individuals blocks/communities. Our Young Scholars correspondence program never actualized. We were not supported or respected by prison administration: in fact, our program was rejected. They did not believe people in prison had anything meaningful to offer the youth from our communities.
By 2009, with many of our Co-Founders no longer in prison, H.O.L.L.A! transitioned into another phase of programmatic development. We joined a partnership with a newly opened middle school in Brownsville Brooklyn. Working from a character education curriculum, we provided volunteer services to Mott Hall Bridges Academy for nearly three and half years before stepping back to re-evaluate our programmatic services, theory of youth development, and theory of change.
From 2012 -2015 H.O.L.L.A! went through a series of critical reflections: we consulted youth previously enrolled in the program for their honest feedback, and we visited and consulted other youth programs and organizations. We read, studied and analyzed the academic literature on positive youth development and sociopolitical youth development.
After three years of intensive strategizing, we have been able to synthesize our personal and programmatic experiences with the wealth of knowledge from youth, friends, family, other youth programs and academic theories to arrive at our current programs.
Our current focus and goal is to co-create a youth-led organization that is centered on grassroots youth community organizing. Our youth programs consist of political education, critical social analysis, direct/indirect actions and providing resources to support the leadership development, healing, and liberation of marginalized urban youth of color and their communities.