The Brown House Experience Hosts Trade Day 2021

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Chicago Peace Fellow '21

This Juneteenth, The Brown House Experience held its second annual “Trade Day” for local youth at the Douglass Park Cultural Center. About 50 youth aged 12 to 21 participated in the event, learning trade skills and creating products at the ten stations led by local businesses. The event began in 2019 but was put on hold during 2020 due to COVID restrictions.

Participants were able to choose three out of the ten stations, which were led by local business owners in various fields, including an electrician, carpenter, T-shirt designer, event designer, barber, beautician, jewelry designer, mechanic, ambulatory service provider, and aerial drone operator. The event also hosted a representative from the Lincoln College of Technology, who gave out information about the college’s many medical trade programs as well as other training programs in electricity and plumbing. These programs are all options for kids in 8th grade and up who are trying to be successful after high school but who don’t necessarily want to spend four years in college.

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The goal of Trade Day was to show alternative routes to having a successful career. We also intentionally invited only local entrepreneurs to come to the event, so that kids could see that people from our regular neighborhoods can own their businesses and give back to the community at the same time.

NBC 5 came out to do a story on us both on Friday and Saturday (June 18-19) and showed the kids working on projects, such as bending pipes and wires to create circuits and making two wooden benches (that are actually sitting in my backyard currently). I’m proud of the fact that the youth learned how to use power tools (to build the benches) among all the other skills they learned. Every kid that I talked to said that they learned something new.

The central goal for Trade Day, as it is for The Brown House Experience, is to give youth exposure to interactive learning experiences that they would not have otherwise. Most of the youth that we target do not have access to people in their lives that will teach them construction, or plumbing, for example.

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In fact, my husband and I first came up with the idea of Trade Day because our oldest daughter told us after her first year in high school that she felt burnt out by school and did not want to go to college. Our daughter was a straight-A student at the time and we figured that if she was tired after doing well at school, there must be other students who were similar or struggling with grades and having an even harder time. As teachers, we were able to explore alternatives to college with her and wanted to extend that exposure to other children in our community.

Thus, our motivations for Trade Day dovetailed with the purpose of The Brown House Experience: to address the lack of hands-on and interactive learning opportunities for youth in schools. It is now a nonprofit that provides STEM, art, mental health, and fitness learning experiences for at-risk youth.

I have been a teacher for 17 years. and I founded the Brown House Experience with my husband because we saw that there was a deficit in schools’ hands-on and interactive learning experiences for youth. We tailor all of our programs to include mental health, fitness, art, and STEM, including our current after-school programs—Brilliant Brown Beauties and Brilliant Brown Beaus. We provide a free Summer STEM and Fitness Academy, which started on Monday, July 12 to youth across the city. We also have community events where we invite youth and their parents to do hands-on activities, such as an “urban engineering” night, our popsicle stick make-n-take, and even fun and interactive activities for birthday parties.

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