Young Scholars Learn Leadership, Coping Skills Through Allegheny County’s BLAACOUT Project
Local nonprofit continues to Build Leadership Among At-Risk Communities.
Latisha Lewis-Favers was inspired to start a project aimed at molding young people into leaders and giving them a voice when she was in the fifth grade. Now 37 and the mother of two boys (Elijah, 11, and Emery, 3), she is the founder of The BLAACOUT Project, which serves underprivileged and underserved youth in Allegheny County.
“I grew up on the North Side of Pittsburgh. My father struggled with a drug addiction throughout my childhood. The moment that sticks out most to me was my fifth-grade year at Martin Luther King Elementary School. My teacher’s name was Ms. Margaret Lewis. I thought she was so cool because we shared the same last name, except that she was an older white woman so I knew we couldn’t have been related. During my fifth-grade year, at the age of 10, I was introduced to a different world of talent and ‘distraction.’ I participated in several school activities and maintained high honor roll,” Lewis-Favers says.
“I was also involved in chorus led by Dr. Walters, who is now the superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools. The level of discipline and passion that both Ms. Lewis and Dr. Walters poured into me gave me the confidence and the clear understanding of what I wanted to pursue in my adult life, despite what was going on at home,” she continues.
Though the seed was planted in her youth, the idea for The BLAACOUT Project (Building Leadership Among At-Risk Communities) came much later in life. She formed the organization in 2019, after having Emery and earning her bachelor’s degree in African American studies and English from Temple University, and her master’s degree in community psychology and social change from Penn State University.
The school-based program currently serves 18 youth at Propel Braddock Hills Middle School. It expanded this month to Propel Northside K-8, where she anticipates the referrals of 24 additional scholars. The BLAACOUT Project is also a Pittsburgh Public Schools Out-of-School Time Provider, with the anticipation of partnerships with schools within the district and recent conversations with Pittsburgh Miller PreK-5, an African-Centered Academy in the Hill District.
The BLAACOUT Project has five board members that support the organization with fundraising, organizing participation in community events and outreach. It also consists of six volunteer mentors who work with Lewis-Favers to fulfill its mission. One of the organization’s fundraisers is an annual Zumbathon that benefits its mentoring programs.
Children ages 10 to 19 who reside in Allegheny County are also eligible for one-on-one mentoring. Apply online here.
“The BLAACOUT Project plans to grow the program by continuing partnerships with Propel and Pittsburgh Public Schools,” she says. “The hope is to eventually have a building where we can offer programming that offers an alternative to traditional suspensions and a safe space for teenagers within the county.”
Her passion to help young people of color in Allegheny County stems from the treatment she experienced while in school.
Lewis-Favers notes in her first year of college at Robert Morris University, she “encountered several issues in which I felt discriminated against because of my race, due to a comment made by both a psychology teacher and a math teacher.”
She transferred to Temple University the following year.
“It wasn’t until I began taking courses in the major of African American studies that I started to put the pieces of what my life was together. I learned that I was living in a society that was not built for people who look like me to succeed. I learned that things would not be easy and that stereotypes were real.”
“I began working on the idea of what would later be called The BLAACOUT Project after I earned my master’s. I became a mental health and drug and alcohol therapist in mostly underprivileged communities to make a living. Throughout the work, becoming part of struggling families and the need to enforce change in the communities that are being overlooked and victimized, further motivated me to move forward with something that would be meaningful, uplifting and a motivator for the young people who grew up like me, who look like me and/or have dreams like me,” she says.
In March 2022, Lewis-Favers appeared on KDKA Newsradio’s “What’s Good In Your Hood” with Ki Ki Brown.
Lewis-Favers explained to Brown that when she says at-risk, she doesn’t mean poor.
“I mean kids who are at-risk for everything. We talk to our scholars about social media, remote learning, safety and drug and alcohol and mental health awareness,” she said. “It’s about getting our kids in the mindset of knowing what community really is. We build peer leadership and give these kids the tools they need to give levels of accountability to their peers.”
Brown asked Lewis-Favers what our local communities can do to help our youth from being more anxious.
“Simply put, hear them,” Lewis-Favers replied. “These young people have real emotions. They are going through mental health issues just like adults are.”
Lewis-Favers says leadership skill building is the most crucial aspect of the program and feels this sets them apart from other mentoring programs.
She notes The BLAACOUT Project is in need of more community and financial partners to help it flourish. They partner with local organizations, as well as the Gamma Alpha Tau Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., which Lewis-Favers is also a member of.
Scholar Mariah Floyd, a seventh-grader at Propel Braddock Hills Middle School, has been participating in the program since last year.
“I really enjoy our engaging games, helpful conversations about our group’s feelings and all the people in it,” she says. “I became a part of the program because a friend recommended it to me. The BLAACOUT community has helped me so much with supporting me, giving me feedback, helping me come out of my comfort zone about my feelings and much more.”
Mariah, an aspiring applied behavior analysis therapist, says the program helps her overall well-being by teaching her to handle stressful situations.
“I 100% encourage other people to join the program because sometimes people might not know how to deal with certain situations or their feelings,” she adds. “Some people might just want to help out in their community.”