Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory
STEUBENVILLE — A “powerful message” of a life turned around will make the local observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day something inspiring and special for area youth, believes Bobbyjon Bauman, director of the Sycamore Youth Center.
The center is partnering with the MLK Association to host the MLK Youth and Children’s Day on Jan. 17 at 301 N. Fourth St. which will feature keynote speaker and Steubenville native Janese Boston of Columbus.
“Basically at 11 a.m. we will begin the program at the center in the sanctuary,” Bauman said, in explaining what the event through 1 p.m. will involve.
There will be performances by singer Elisha Fletcher, overall winner of the Valley’s Got Talent in 2014; dancer Lynzee Ensell, 2021 Valley’s Got Talent overall winner; hip-hop artist “Mo Truth” Gene “Minister of Truth” Shelby of Pittsburgh; the commUNITY Youth Choir; and Steubenville High School HS student hip-hop singer Lawrence J.R. Lewis.
A free pizza lunch for the children followed by a birthday cake to celebrate MLK’s birthday will bring the day’s events to a close.
Stations explaining the life of MLK and his accomplishments will be the handiwork of the Rise Youth Group under the leadership of Trey Jeter. They will be set up in the center’s foyer, according to Bauman, who added that Sharon Kirtdoll, MLK Association treasurer, will be providing an MLK display.
“If you have never heard Janese share her story, you truly will be blown away by it,” Bauman has said of Boston in his promotional material.
Boston grew up in Steubenville’s South End and “withstood very difficult trials to become a master chef in Columbus and was recently featured on the ‘Good Morning America’ TV show,” he noted.
“I have had in mind to bring in Janese to be the keynote speaker and finally this year it just kind of worked out for her to come in,” he said during a recent interview.
“Dear Beloved Community” is the theme of Boston’s presentation.
“It is important for me to do this because sharing my story to inspire others and the work that I and others do in the community is the ‘all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood’ that Dr. King spoke of,” she said.
Boston, who operates her private chef business, Living Proof Chef Service, and her nonprofit organization, Be Living Proof, attended the former Lincoln Elementary School, then Harding. After ninth grade, she quit school, made bad choices, got into trouble and ended up in prison in Marysville, sentenced to five years on charges of felonious assault with a weapons specification.
Thirty days after the sentencing, she gave birth to her son. “I was able to spend 30 days with my son before I went away. I did four years and a few months,” she had shared in an interview during a previous visit to her hometown.
She earned her GED during prison and two college degrees after her release.
That it’s not too late to start anew is a message she advocates.
This will mark Boston’s third return trip to the area to address youth with the other two programs appropriately involving cooking camps for youth at the center,
Both times she shared a testimony on how wrong choices and bad influences can combine for not-the-best results, but second chances are possible.
Boston continues to find success with her business, which has just finished its best year ever, she said. “We have helped many people create memories through our dining experiences,” noted Boston, who was featured on a Dec. 23 episode of “Good Morning America” for her Build a Bond toy drive she conducted this Christmas and last in Franklin County, Columbus.
It provides gifts to children who have an incarcerated parent, something Boston can relate to, having been one herself.
This was the second year for her outreach that overall has provided gifts to as many as 40 children.
“The incarcerated parent is housed at one of the two Franklin County jails located in Columbus,” explained Boston, who works with Tresalyn Butler, director of social services for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, to identify qualifying parents for the toy drive. The parents must meet certain criteria to show that they are working to prepare themselves for life after prison.
“The parents are in programming in the jail. Once we have a list of all the parents who have signed up for the toy drive, Tresalyn sends the guardian/caretakers a form that asks permission for the child/children to be involved and also the sizes and interests of the child,” she continued.
“The caretakers send that form to me, and I personally shop for each and every kid. Every parent is required to write their child or children a handwritten letter to accompany the gifts. It is important to maintain positive interactions between the incarcerated for many reasons but the main one being that the jail system sees a lot of recidivism due to lack of support.”
Establishing positive communication between the incarcerated and their children often times gives them the drive to keep bettering themselves, according to Boston.
Also critical, she said, is that the child always needs to know that their parent away loves them. “Child trauma like an absent parent and juvenile incarceration is co-related at times,” she said. “We want to implement ways that the child has a connection to their absent parent beyond the physical.”
Boston said her story ended up on “Good Morning America” after a local news station covered the story about the toy drive, and then Good Morning America reached out to me to cover it as well.
Bauman believes the 38-year-old’s message will resonate with the youth. “A lot of kids coming to Sycamore are coming from that area,” he said.
“MLK is a model for a lot of people who have struggled in life, whom they can look to as a shining light,” Bauman said, noting Boston has been able to overcome difficult circumstances and succeed.
“She is living the American dream and showing that this can be done. Whatever background you have, you can be successful and follow your dreams,” Bauman said. “Anyone is welcome to come to the program from 11 a.m. to noon. It is open to the public but is a children and youth event. This event is not geared to adults. It’s a youth and children’s MLK celebration. Every year we have had adults come, but the focus is youth and children,” Bauman said.
The children benefit from it, according to Bauman.
“Each of the speakers I’ve brought in has done a great job — Steve Forte two years ago and last year Michael Jett and this year Janese so I try to bring in someone local and they bring in a different theme but basically we try to inspire kids that these are folks who are successful coming from a challenged background so it also ties in the theme of unity that MLK had of different races working together and inspiring change,” Bauman said.