“First, you find a wizard.”
YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer has often been heard quoting the article of the same name by Marty Beyer when talking about YAP’s strategy to find the right community leaders to run YAP programs. The role of the YAP Program Director is critical: for kids and families to achieve good outcomes, programs need leaders who understand their community’s needs and strengths, and inspire and motivate action to build community capacity to affect positive change.
Derrick Jones, the Director of YAP’s Baltimore Program, was indeed a Wizard. He passed away on June 1st at the age of 38 from natural causes.
Derrick was born and raised in Baltimore. He graduated from Coppin State University, a historically black college located in Baltimore. Prior to his job at YAP, he worked as a teacher within the city’s public school system for several years. Derrick was also a hip hop artist known as “OOH,” in the influential Baltimore group Brown F.I.S.H. and more recently released music under the artist name “Yo Slick.”
Derrick started at YAP in 2008 and became the Director shortly thereafter. He used his background and experience, talents and his own social capital to help Baltimore’s most at-risk, vulnerable and marginalized kids and their families. Through his leadership and the positive outcomes his kids achieved, his program offering detention alternatives to youth involved with the Department of Juvenile Services expanded to serve more youth, and he also began to work with youth involved with the Department of Social Services.
Derrick inherently believed in and built upon the capacity of his community to mobilize and help themselves. He illustrated this through his leadership in a number of ways, but to name a few: YAP partnered with the Oldfield School for Girls to collect and distribute Kwanza gifts of self-care products and winter clothing to Baltimore families; he participated in the 300 Men March to Discourage Violence in Baltimore City; YAP supported the Q92 Food and Clothing Drive and partnered with 2011 Bistro and the Ray Lewis foundation to help feed families in Baltimore City.
Some of his most innovative work is reflected in his commitment to providing youth with job training and employment. Like in many places in the country, unemployment has been a significant issue for youth and adults. Many of the youth he worked with were helping to take care of themselves, younger siblings and even their parents.
“A lot of these children are doing this [drug dealing] because their parents cannot afford to take care of them, or… are not educated enough,” Derrick told reporter Tristan Brooks in 2012. “I see a lot of times when children are really taking care of themselves at 13 and 14 years old, and younger siblings. “So where else are they supposed to get money from? They can’t get a job. They’re not hiring a 14 year-old. They’re unskilled… so they hit the first and the easiest way possible: guy on the corner like, ‘Look. You stand out here all day, you can make a hundred dollars.’”
To help meet this need, Derrick used YAP’s supported work program – a form of subsidized employment that helps youth develop work experience while providing support by Advocate staff trained as job coaches - as an opportunity to give youth work experience. After completing a five-week job readiness training program, youth interview with pre-screened businesses, and soon after they start work as trainees. Supported work placements are temporary, and participating employers are encouraged to hire each youth as an employee after the subsidized period ends.
However, Derrick wanted to do more. He blended his talents and connections to develop and launch the “Save A Dope Boy” Campaign, his way of raising awareness of the number of Baltimore youth getting arrested and charged for non-violent drug offenses. Derrick wrote and recorded a song and used it as a springboard from which to both raise awareness and funds to support youth employment opportunities.
His efforts not only succeeded locally, but earned him an invitation from the White House last September to attend the “Champion of Change” ceremony for his “…out-of-the-box approach to President Obama’s call to action for youth employment.”
This was part of Derrick’s wizardry- his ability to understand needs and then create and innovate, using his skills and connections, to provide opportunities and supports where gaps exist.
Derrick spoke with ease and conviction about his kids and their issues to whomever would listen, whether it was at the White House, with Maryland Governor O’Malley, on the air with Anthony McCarthy or locally to those business owners he appealed to employ his kids. But he also rolled up his sleeves and got involved directly in the work. Derrick’s kids affectionately called him “2-4-7” because they knew that he was available to them no matter when they needed help. "I'm not going to be the one who lets these kids down,” he said.
Derrick Jones embodied the essence of a YAP leader; he was a real Wizard. His commitment to youth is reflected in the many community activities that were collateral to his career, but central to his life. He was a community pioneer who supported and elevated youth in Baltimore. Though his commitment to Baltimore City youth began well before his position at YAP, it was that commitment that, paired with his intimate knowledge of the community, made him a great YAP Director.
It is both the blessing and the burden of his strong, local team to carry on their important work. Derrick’s strong and impassioned team at BYAP is committed to continuing his legacy and leading positive change in Baltimore City. Additionally, Craig Jernigan, Assistant Director, shared that the local team has started a campaign to raise money for Derrick’s young daughter’s education. He further shared that the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Annual Resource Fair Committee named their educational scholarship after Derrick to honor his memory. As Ted Kennedy once said, “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”