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Jul 12, 2011 | Rachel Brownlie

Trinity and Youth Advocates Create Positive Hip Hop Culture

Break DanceThe steady thrum of dance beats pour from the speakers as 40 to 50 young people begin gathering for another night of music, fun, food, and fellowship at Trinity, Houston. For over eight years, Trinity has been the Tuesday night home for Youth Advocates, Inc., a non-profit organization focusing on relationships with young people rather than the delivery of services. Youth Advocates utilizes hip hop as its central organizing principle, employing a vernacular that young people appreciate.


Trinity has been a long time partner for Youth Advocates (YA), providing the support and space for YA to run YA Activity nights, as well as two larger gatherings, the Summer Jam and Winter Jam. Recently, YA has become known for its break-dancers, a number of whom have performed all over the world. A group of dancers in a crew called I.aM.mE (I am me), who have often practiced at the YA Night held at Trinity, earned the title of “2011 America’s Best Dance Crew” on the show of the same name on MTV. Other dancers have performed for former First Lady Laura Bush and General Colin Powell.


The 2010 Winter Jam held between Christmas and New Year’s had over 500 young people in attendance. YA’s upcoming Summer Jam will be on August 18-19. YA Activity Nights provide an atmosphere of safety and collegiality that is irresistible to young people who get involved. YA Nights are the heart of YA’s work, bringing together the community whose members come from around the city. These gatherings provide members with ongoing support, strong guidance, and positive forms of expression, such as break dancing and other forms of hip hop dancing.


A Typical Dance-Off at Trinity's YA Night - J Fung & Lee-O v Katoe & Ghost from Charles Rotramel


Youth who feel disenfranchised from traditional social groups, are drawn to the YA community. Many of the young people involved are at risk of becoming involved in gangs and illegal activities, becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol, and also dropping out of school. YA replaces those negative behaviors with positive alternative behaviors and involves young people in a positive youth driven community. Through this approach, YA has made a significant difference in the lives of young people for over 20 years.


YA is open to all young people, but primarily targets youth 12-20 who have feel disenfranchised from the larger community. Youth who are members of the YA community are over 80 percent more likely to complete high school or its equivalent and over 60 percent go on to attend some college. Over 70 percent cease their involvement or do not become involved in gangs or illegal activity. YA in 2010 served over 3,500 different young people with a core community group of over 500.


Through the course of building relationships with the young people who participate, YA has discovered that a significant portion of these young people do not have consistent access to a full meal, and often skip meals due to lack of funds. Through YA’s partnership with Trinity, a meal is prepared on Tuesdays and served to anyone who wishes to eat. Trinity serves an average of 50 meals to the YA community each week.


YA Activity nights are loud and energetic, and at any given time there might be someone spinning on their head or intently practicing either by themselves or in a small group. YA staff move amongst the young people greeting everyone and engaging in conversations, often being pulled aside to speak about school issues or other challenges they may be facing.


Youth Advocates has also provided service to Trinity. For several years, young people were placed at Trinity through AmeriCorps to provide outreach and support to several of Trinity’s mission efforts. Members of the YA community have also volunteered for the last two years to assist Trinity’s Garden Club to mulch and clean the flower beds. They have also served meals at Trinity’s Thanksgiving luncheons, assisted parking and other set up activities for Trinity’s Jazz Concerts and assisted packing sack lunches for the homeless ministry.


--Rachel Brownlie is director of operations for Youth Advocates, Inc. The program was founded in 1988 by Charles Rotramel, a graduate of Rice University. YA has worked with over 18,000 youth. The ethos of this community promotes autonomy, independent thinking, and creativity, and builds unconventional opportunities for growth and self-expression. For more information please contact Youth Advocates, Inc. at or 713.300.8301. Visit their website at