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College of Education, Triangle Literacy Council Team Up to Publish YouthBuild’s “Blueprints”

The Triangle Literacy Council recently released “Blueprints: Rebuilding Lives and Redesigning Futures,” a collection of works by the first cohort of students of the Bull City YouthBuild. Student Press Initiative published the book with the help of NC State College of Education. 

Bull City YouthBuild is Durham’s local chapter of a national initiative that helps participants earn high school equivalency/diploma while learning hands-on job skills training in the construction industry.

We spoke with Assistant Professor Crystal Chen Lee about her experience with Bull City YouthBuild and how literacy is changing lives.

Bull City YouthBuild focuses on giving its students a second chance at a high school education. Why do you think it’s important for these students to look to the future and build a blueprint for the life they want to live?

Bull City YouthBuild’s mission is for students to build blueprints that change personal lives and the lives of people in the community. In writing this book, it was important for the students to look to the future to carve out their life’s plan to pursue future college, career, and employment goals that contribute to this mission. They wrote about the journey and joys of rebuilding lives and redesigning futures from examining where they came from to where they are going. Many of the students wrote that they had gone through many setbacks before entering Bull City YouthBuild, and were determined to finish the program by setting and achieving future milestones. In echoing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words from his speech, “What is your life’s blueprint?” it was important for the students to decide “what their life’s work will be.” In adopting this vision, the students wanted to set out to do the work they felt called to do and to do it with excellence.

What do you think the students gained from this experience?

On January 25, the students graduated from the Bull City YouthBuild program and celebrated their successes at the Durham County Health and Human Services in downtown Durham. Together with their families, they celebrated the achievements of obtaining their high school diploma, their completion of building a house through Habitat for Humanity, and their publication of Blueprints: Rebuilding Lives and Redesigning Futures. The students not only gained the academic writing skills they learned from the writing process but also, they were able to share their voices with the community of Durham. Through conducting a book reading and a book signing, the students shared stories of their adversities while highlighting the immense accomplishments and greater hopes of their present and future lives. They learned that their voices matter–in both written and oral form, and that literacy gives them the power and the tools to share such stories.

What did you learn/take away from this experience?

My passion and research agenda has been to examine the intersections of schools, communities, and institutions within marginalized and currently underserved populations. The foundation and driving force of my work stem from a belief that social justice education requires the advocacy and work of multiple educational stakeholders. At the reading and graduation of Bull City YouthBuild, I looked across the room and saw just this. The students read excerpts of their work to all those who supported their educational efforts– family members, teachers, community leaders, members of the Triangle Literacy Council, Habitat for Humanity directors, church pastors, professors, and even policymakers from the Durham County Commissioner’s Office. It took a village for the project to come to fruition, and the participation of all those involved is an example of how we can work to meet the needs of currently underserved students in North Carolina.

Most importantly, it has been the most wonderful experience seeing the students grow in their literacy work while building relationships with them outside of classwork. Their powerful words speak truth and educate me on the necessity to strive for equity and excellence in educational spaces–in the classroom and beyond.