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BYAYA Teen Nights create a summertime community space for Black youth in Madison

BYAYA Teen Night (Photo by Alexandrea Cordell)

This summer, certified peer specialist Tara Wilhelmi, the founder of EOTO Culturally Rooted, set out to create a community space for Black youth and young adults.

“I was sitting in my office while we still had dreary weather. I thought on a nice day I should take a pop-up table and sit in the park and just be in the park and get to know people,” Wilhelmi told Madison365.

However, Wilhelmi thought other people would think she was strange if she just sat alone working in the park so she decided to invite resources to the park. Then, she began thinking a little larger.

EOTO Culturally Rooted partnered with Seein’ is Belivin’ to present a summer series of community events to introduce BYAYA (Black Youth and Young Adults) Teen Nights. Wilhelmi planned events featuring a DJ, live music, food, youth and family activity stations, sports demonstrations, challenge activities, community resource information booths for teenagers aged 14-17.

“I have children in that age group so I have always been connected to that age group,” Wilhelmi said.

Wilhelmi, who has five children of her own, said her connection to the youth began with her supporting her children’s friends. A lot of them would come to her for advice, a listening ear, or to get help preparing for a job interview.

Teens play the violin at a previous BYAYA event. (Photo by Alexandrea Cordell)

“I was one of those kids who was out of the house at 15 and my friend’s parents were there for me,” Wilhelmi remembers.

So she did the same. Now, her young people affectionately call her “Miss T” or think of her as their second mama. For BYAYA, Wilhelmi knew she needed to make genuine connections with youth to build a strong foundation for the future.

“I’m a brave soul so I just went out and talked to people,” she said. “…As far as outreach, the kids are just hovering around and I just go out and talk to them.”

BYAYA! Teen Nights in the Park kicked off Sunday, July 11. There have been four events in this summer series so far. Wilhelmi also gives credit to Prenicia Clifton, from Seein’ is Belivin’, who has been partnering with her to provide the BYAYA! events and brings Life Readiness and hygiene resources for youth.

In the beginning, Wilhelmi would drive around neighborhood parks and would see no one. She thinks people are still negotiating whether it feels safe to go outside. 

“I picked the parks in those neighborhoods that are not in those resource areas but are forgotten,” Wilhelmi said.

BYAYA Teen Night (Photo by Alexandrea Cordell)

She refers to these neighborhoods as “pocket neighborhoods,” communities located near other neighborhoods abundant in services but not connected. Wilhelmi said people thought she was lost when she started visiting the parks in those areas. Wilhelmi would tell them she’s in the right place.

“We hear a lot about Northport. We hear a lot about the North Corridor but we selected Brentwood [neighborhood],” she said. “…When we’re doing our events at Warner Park. We’re not doing it in the popular part of Warner Park.”

Wilhelmi also wanted people who consider themselves leaders in the community to show up to these events. She also plans to connect with other organizations to fill resource gaps such as Mentoring Positives in the Darbo-Worthington area of Madison’s east side. 

“For me, we’re setting an example of how nonprofit community organizations serving Black people should work with each other,” Wilhelmi said.

She has collaborated with Mentoring Positives Executive Director Will Green who had a positive impact on her son’s life when looking for Black male role models. Wilhelmi hopes more young Black men will think about becoming mentors.

“Being a mentor doesn’t mean that you’re perfect. It just means that you care and that you’re willing to share your journey with somebody,” she said.

The next BYAYA! Teen Night event will be a collaboration with Green and Mentoring Positives at the Annual Darbo Block Party this Thursday, August 26 at Worthington Park.