Stitchers Youth Council Spotlight: Jihad

IMG_8014The Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective, a 501(c)(3) organization, is professional artists and inner-city youth grades ages 16-24, working together to create social change with a focus on gun violence prevention.

Stitchers collect local stories, reframe and retell them through art, writing and performance to promote understanding, civic pride, intergenerational relationships and literacy.

Story Stitchers are artists-in-residence at Kranzberg Arts Foundation in the vibrant Grand Center Arts District and run a Storefront Studio for publishing at 616 N Skinker Blvd. in the historic Loop District.

Meet Jihad, a member of the Stitchers Youth Council…

Jihad is a 20 year old college student attending St. Louis Community College at Forest Park and studying Petroleum and Mechanical Engineering. He’s doing well in school. He is the eldest of 5 siblings in his family, one being a twin sister. He was born in New Orleans and when he was 5 years old his family moved to Saudi Arabia as his father followed a career opportunity. When he was 17, after graduating high school, he relocated to St. Louis to be with family.

Jihad came to Story Stitchers through a pod cast activity in which Story Stitchers partnered with the students at the Community College to create a recorded discussion on gun violence prevention.

“I was nervous at the beginning because I was never used to people being able to speak on their personal experiences, because back home in Saudi Arabia, if you speak out it can be used against you and you’ll get picked up by police the next morning,” Jihad said. “It’s really different here because talking openly is seen as part of making solutions to problems rather than it being your own statement.

It’s hard to tell someone to put down their gun when every time they walk out the door they feel like a target. But I realize that carrying can put the person at a higher risk; even more risk than other people. You could go down on gun charges if you don’t use it or if you do use it it’s the same thing— you might not come back home…ever. When you carry, you would have to pick between two boxes— a coffin or a cell. I’ve learned a lot in my short life and now I want to help other people.”

Thinking abut the future Jihad said, “So after the podcast experience I came by the storefront the next day and joined Story Stitchers. Story Stitchers kept me away from sticky situations and it showed me to think before I act. I’m making friends here with other young people my age and I’m starting to perfect my art which is something I wasn’t able to focus on because I was sidetracked…. I hope to reach out to other kids in order to help them learn through my mistakes, and If we don’t change our habits, our mindsets, and our activities collectively, we might not be able to get a second chance…”

IMG_8015The goal for all Story Stitchers projects is to promote a better educated, more peaceful and caring region through storytelling. A core creative group of professional artists and African American youth generate original work through a unique form of “urban storytelling” that includes hip hop, spoken word, photography and videography and disseminate new works through public presentations and performances. The Collective’s body of work focuses on gun violence prevention and topics related to public health issues.

Story Stitchers’ programs are driven by the interests and concerns of low-income, black youth and as a result have focused on gun violence since 2014. Gun violence is a pressing public health crisis that consumes the attention of the engaged youth. Youth have the opportunity to work through their pain and loss and be a force multiplier, impacting families, schools and neighborhoods.

Stitchers is committed to placing youth at the center of the work both in identifying topics for exploration as well as the methods for engagement. This approach builds a community of youth and professional artists who respect one another. We are proud that our primary method for recruiting new youth is word of mouth from their peers.

The Collective meets with youth year-round and has presented publicly over 150 times, engaging a diverse audiences of over 18,000.

Together, we can do so much more for our at risk youth in Saint Louis. Please make a gift today to support Saint Louis Story Stitchers in the New Year—and beyond.

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

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