Featured Philadelphia Tribune
Written by Damon C. Williams
Thursday, 21 March 2013 12:01

“Inside the NFL” host James Brown, center, with Urban Youth students involved in the “What It Takes” mentoring program.—Photo/Urban Youth

Since its founding 15 years ago, The Urban Youth Racing School has offered several programs and initiatives, and has remained at the forefront of getting urban youth involved in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas. The school appears to have it all, including a robust mentoring program and relationships with some of the biggest names in sports and science.

“We’ve been around for 15 years, and we’ve always started new programs. But traditionally, we have been known as just the ‘racing school,’” explained Urban Youth Director of Operations Michelle Martin. “

In fact, the only thing the school lacked was an umbrella-like branding, in which all of its programs would be easily accessible and better understood; thus, organizers have rebranded the school, which will now be known simply as “Urban Youth.”

Located at 907 N. Front Street and with laboratories at the Naval Yard and other institutions throughout the city, Urban Youth will continue to provide its four core programs: the Racing School, Naval Engine Program, Remote-Powered Vehicle Program and the Mentoring Program. The main difference is that, before, finding out about these programs turned out to be problematic for a few families; now, organizers hope with the concise rebranding, people will be able to locate Urban Youth’s programs with greater ease.

“We’ve been around for 15 years, and we’ve always started new programs. But traditionally, we have been known as just the ‘racing school,’” explained Urban Youth Director of Operations Michelle Martin. “We were trying to find a way to bring all of our programs under one roof in a way that makes sense, but didn’t want to change the name of the Urban Youth Racing School and lose what we have built up over the last 15 years.

“After a considerable amount of time working with an agency, we came up with ‘Urban Youth’ as the brand name,” Martin continued. “And we see longevity with the brand, and we see even more programs on the horizon that don’t fit under the racing school branding, per se.”

The racing school program is known worldwide for its methods of bringing high-tech designs and specs to the world of automobiles and for the trailblazing method in which the program teaches the students, who then create the automobiles. The students are active on several levels of car racing, from kart to mini cup and all the way to NASCAR.

For its naval program, Urban Youth has partnered with the United States Navy’s NAVSEA program, and last September, Urban Youth students worked on an array of navy engines and designed during a recent trip to Tuskegee University.

Of the other offerings, the rocket and mentoring program deserve the most attention, Martin says, because one is very new and cutting edge while the other is born of the necessity to save young black men from the streets, crime and ultimately, prison and death.

Students and interested parents can sign up for the program through its website, www.UYRS.com.

“In today’s world, STEM is so important, and then again, 20 years down the road, will STEM be the hot-button word it is today? So we need to remain open and let the brand evolve on its own. All the while, we can go ahead and build tracks for career exploration, such as the naval engines track,” Martin said. “The newest program, which started this year, is the Remote Piloted Vehicle Program and the rocket program, which is totally different from the remote pilot piece. What we want to do is find programs that are strategically aligned with career opportunities, so students can get training early on and show them the entire career track.”

Of all the programs, perhaps the most crucial that Urban Youth offers is the mentoring/E-mentoring program, which pairs the students – a great majority of whom are African American – with older, situated African American men. The result, organizers hope, will be even more students coming through Urban Youth and less going through the justice system. The mentoring program is facilitated through the offshoot “What It Takes” mentoring initiative created by Urban Youth’s founder and Executive Director Anthony Martin.

“Our E-mentoring program is funded by the Knight Foundation, and it’s the only kind in the nation with African American men E-mentoring African American boys, and it is a huge deal. [The adults] and mentored boys meet online and have conversations. It, like all of our programs, use technology,” Martin explained. “What’s different for our program is that we wanted to and do bring in the regular blue-collar worker and the professional black man to come in and mentor. The E-mentoring program is an extension of our symposiums.

“Now that we have these students interested, let’s see if we can find these men in these careers, and then our students will be able to ask them why they chose a particular path, and what strategies they used,” Martin added. “All of these types of conversations give our boys a leg up. Everything is tough; the job market and the economy, so anything we can do to give them hope, we will.”

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.