There are unsung heroes in every community. Unsung heroes often have no desire for praise or worship. They are never pictured in photos covering public events or functions and they usually dread being the center of attention. Many of us know an unsung hero who has touched our lives in one way or another. One of my unsung heroes is Brandon Hill, a community organizer, and youth leader at the Oasis Center.
He gives his time and attention to young people of this city and his heart is always at the center of every action. Brandon is quick to identify leadership potential in a young person even when family, schools, and the courts see a problem child.
For the last four years, he has worked in the area of youth leadership at the Oasis Center. Currently, he works with the Youth Engagement and Action team. This group of young people connects youth with community and city leaders to effectively address social problems within the city of Nashville. While many of society’s biggest problems (education, health care, economy) have the greatest impact on young people, the youth are rarely invited to the table to share their voices on these issues. Brandon’s work involves educating young people on important community issues and prepares them to take action to address the problems.
By engaging students, Brandon helps them to see they are the solution to many of the issues they are facing daily. He encourages them to take control of their futures by being leaders today. Brandon shares a common thread with many of the youth that he leads; he has firsthand experience with living in areas that are impoverished and underserved. Brandon often contributes personal anecdotes about his teen years and his experiences as a youth ministry leader. Several times a week, I ask a young person what lead them to the Oasis Center. Most tell me, “Brandon spoke at my school.”
Brandon Hill was born and raised in Nashville. He spent a good deal of his childhood in the infamous James A. Cayce Homes. Brandon and his brother were raised in a loving single-parent home. Living in one of Nashville’s poorest neighborhoods and attending some of the city’s lowest-performing schools had a great impact on Brandon’s life and prepared him to work with young people who face these challenges today. After graduating from high school, Brandon returned to the James A. Cayce Homes, still a teen himself, to work with youth in his old neighborhood. After college at the age of twenty-one, he was given the task of leading the Teen Outreach program at the Martha O’ Bryan Center. Working there taught him a great deal about the state of Nashville’s youth as well the challenges the city must face in learning to support them.
Recently, Brandon and a band of young brothers spoke about their struggles, dreams, accomplishments and what the future holds from young people of color perspectives. While students from age fifteen to nineteen imparted wisdom beyond their years; their leader, Brandon, stated his greatest accomplishment in 2008 was accompanying Kanesha Butler to the White House. Kanesha, a teen with Youth United, was a guest of the President and Mrs. Bush. He did not mention the numerous awards that several programs won under his leadership. Seeing the young folks on stage with Brandon and Hal Cato, executive director of the Oasis Center, left me in tears and an overwhelming sense a pride for an organization that cares so deeply for the young people of this city.
As I close, I will leave you with a few words from Brandon:
Young people have always been, and will continue to be, one of our community’s greatest resources. Unfortunately, they are also one of our most over-looked, under-appreciated, and under-valued resources. Much of this is due to a distorted perception of youth. Many times youth are seen as destructive, violent, and void of any desire to improve their lives or the lives of others. Because of these views, adults are convinced that they must create ways to “fix” youth, which leads to a never-ending cycle of negativity and cynicism.
My ultimate goal is to end this cycle. My work is about creating better connections between young people and the communities in which they live in. I hope to inspire young people and adults to find better ways to communicate and work together to offer solutions to the problems we face as a community.
There are many heroes like Brandon Hill in our community. Let us support them and let them know how valuable they are to our community and to our young people. To see the many programs offered by the Oasis Center for young people visit them on the web at www.oasiscenter.org or stop by the Youth Opportunity Center to find many unsung heroes in action.
“Be the change, you want to see in the world.”—Ghandi