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Sep 9, 2019

A Summer of Peace & Positivity!

Block Party, 1
Block Party, 1

Wow! What a busy summer! As we head into fall — working in 21 schools through both our in-school and after school Fly By Light program and our new Mental Health expansion! — we’re proud to look back on a summer full of peace education, artistic expression, and community building. 

Highlights from the summer include:

  • Peace & Positivity - Music Video, Block Party, and NBC Feature: On June 21, we released "Peace & Positivity" — an inspiring music video, written and performed by Fly By Light Alumni artists DougieD, Nfinity Zhy and Isaiah King. To celebrate, we hosted a Peace & Positivity Block Party in Anacostia on July 13, which brought together and called upon community members to end violence. The event was also featured on NBC
  • Fly By Light Summer Nature Retreats: This summer we hosted two Fly By Light youth retreats: one on June for 16 high school students and another on July for 9 middle school students. Both retreats ran for four nights and five days and took place at the Am Kolel Sanctuary and Renewal Center in Montgomery County, Maryland. Our youth spent their time developing their arts expression, social-emotional and environmental leadership skills through activities which included daily yoga and mindfulness, teambuilding and community dialogues around social justice issues, gratitude practices, nature immersion, specialized training in arts expression, and immersive day trips including hiking, kayaking, and a farm animal sanctuary. Youth emerged from the retreat ready to bring back the experiences and skills they learned, and spread the work of Fly By Light throughout their schools and communities. In addition, two of our high school students were so inspired by the retreat that they created an “Organizing Troupe,” which meets once a week at OCU’s central office and helps to build an intentional social justice movement and create connections across our programs.
  • An Imperfect Union: An Imperfect Union is a weekly Facebook series that brings two people together with opposing views to work together on a service project in their community. We were thrilled to be featured on episode 42, which focuses on two adults with opposing views of the U.S. asylum process. In the second half of the video, OCU Co-Founder and Executive Director, Hawah Kasat, facilitated a meditation and group poetry session for our School Without Wall High School students and the two adults. After the workshop, all participants expressed increased positivity and were able to find common ground. 
  • Fly By Light National Training: From July 15-19, we were honored to host 22 educators, teachers, youth workers, community organizers, artists, and activists from around the world for our first ever Fly By Light National Training! Our award-winning program model and curriculum includes after-school and in-school workshops, overnight nature immersion retreats, annual city-wide showcases, professional development for teachers, parents, and other school administrators, and youth-led social justice campaigns. This new initiative allowed us to train and certify each participant to lead Fly By Light chapters in their communities and we are excited to expand our movement both nationally and globally. 
  • Professional Development Training for School Staff and Teachers: Thanks to a new partnership with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), our FBL facilitators began offering professional development trainings for teachers and staff focused on trauma-informed care, social-emotional literacy, cultural competence and humility, anti-racism/ implicit bias, and other topics as needed. Through these workshops, OCU equips teachers with the current youth development best practices and supports them long-term to transform classroom cultures and climates.
  • Funding Update: This summer, we were so honored to be chosen for a Community Service Grant through the DC Rotary Foundation as well as a DC Humanities Council grant for a new film project. In addition, we were awarded an additional $500,000 from the Department of Behavioral Health to continue to expand our mental health services.

In addition, we’re excited to kick off the fall with some of the following exciting initiatives: 

  • Intention Not Detention: On September 9th, we will release our newest music video, Miss Intention, composed by and featuring OCU's dynamic and inspiring Facilitator and Performance Troupe Director, Princess Best (aka The HipHopMomma). The video kicks off our #IntentionNotDetention campaign to establish Intention Rooms™ as designated alternatives to in-school suspensions. Intention Rooms are safe, trauma-informed spaces to support students to reflect upon and transform behavior. This starts with an intentional, trauma-informed alternative to punitive discipline; one that builds students’ self-esteem, sense of agency, and empowers them to lead the lives they are capable of. 
  • Elevate Peace:You’re invited to join us for Elevate Peace, an evening to celebrate nearly 20 years of our transformative work. Elevate Peace will take place on November 14th from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the historic Josephine Butler Parks Center. The evening will feature inspiring speakers and performances from program alumni along with curated cocktails and delicious small bites. Save the date!
  • Mental Health Expansion: In addition to offering our award winning Fly By Light program across all 8 Wards of DC, we are very excited to expand our school-based mental health services through the city's School Based Mental Health Expansion program. In addition to our facilitators, we are placing mental health clinicians in public schools across the city to provide a three-tiered continuum of behavioral health support, offering prevention, early intervention and treatment services to our students.

On behalf of our youth and staff, thank you for your support of One Common Unity. Because of you, we are able to continue building healthy, safe, and resilient communities through the transformative power of education and the arts. We couldn't do any of this without you, and we are so grateful for your support.



Block Party, 2
Block Party, 2
Retreat, 1
Retreat, 1
Retreat, 2
Retreat, 2
National Training
National Training
Jun 10, 2019

Expanding Fly By Light Best Practices Across the City and Country

We are in the midst another transformative year of youth empowerment, education, artistic expression and peace building.  As winter transformed into spring and the school year drew to a close, we were proud to spend the second quarter of 2019 in fifteen schools across all eight DC wards and grateful for the support of our community.

Highlights from the second quarter of 2019 include:

  • Funding Update: This quarter, we were so honored to be chosen for an ArtWorks grant through the National Endowment of the Arts, a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, a general operating support grant from the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities and a Project Innovation Grant through NBC4 to provide cameras, iPads and multimedia training to our Fly By Light students. In addition, our Evening Elevating Peace event on March 14 brought in a host of new committed and engaged donors and volunteers.
  • Professional Development Training for School Staff and Teachers: Thanks to a new partnership with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), our FBL facilitators began offering professional development trainings for teachers and staff focused on trauma-informed care, social-emotional literacy, cultural competence and humility, anti-racism/ implicit bias, and other topics as needed. Through these workshops, OCU equips teachers with the current youth development best practices and supports them long-term to transform classroom cultures and climates. This quarter, they led a successful training at School Without Walls Middle School for 30 teachers and staff, after which one participant reported: “Because [OCU facilitators] come from outside of the school, [they] are able to see and say truths that those inside are unable to see or say.” We will be offering 7 trainings in June - August.
  • Gun Violence Panel: In April, the DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council organized a public panel and conversation on creating youth-oriented solutions to prevent gun violence in the community. We were excited to have OCU Co-Founder Mikuak Rai serve on the panel at Anacostia High School and look forward to being one of the grassroots organizations leading the way toward violence prevention in DC.
  • Self-Love Retreat: In April, we hosted 12 students from all over DC for a spring self-love retreat. On their day off from school, these students chose to join us in coming together to explore how strengthening positive relationships to themselves can create change in their own lives and the lives of others in their communities. Check out these awesome photos from the retreat (taken by Program Facilitator and photographer Tyler Grigsby).
  • Fly By Light Summer Showcase: On June 5, 48 Fly By Light youth and alumni artists from across the city shared original music, poetry, and dance at the 2019 Fly By Light Summer Showcase. Working in school and after-school with One Common Unity's facilitators in the Fly By Light program, these youth worked through art to find their voices, express themselves, and bring awareness to the issues they face as teens in D.C. Over 250 community members came out to see their art, listen to their stories, and be inspired by this beautiful, positive community of young leaders.
  • Strategic Planning: 2020 marks the celebration of OCU’s 20th anniversary. Following its last few years of rapid growth and expansion, OCU leadership has determined it to also be an opportune time to envision the organization’s next twenty years and develop an actionable strategic plan for realizing its vision. After a nationwide search lead by our Board of Directors, OCU is thrilled to begin working with consultants Allison Brown and Isabelle Moses to begin the implementation of a strategic plan in 2020. We were excited to kick off the process with a Board Retreat in May and look forward to the opportunity to strengthen our impact.

In addition, we’re excited to spend the summer on some of the following exciting initiatives:

  • Fly By Light National Training: Join us in July for our first ever Fly By Light National Training! We are thrilled to launch this new initiative expanding our programming to include a national training which will certify teachers all over the country to lead Fly By Light chapters in their communities. Our award-winning program model and curriculum includes after-school and in-school workshops, overnight nature immersion retreats, annual city-wide showcases, professional development for teachers, parents, and other school administrators, and youth-led social justice campaigns. This summer, YOU can join educators, artists, and activists around the country who are passionate about building the next generations of changemakers and bring Fly By Light to your school or city! Learn more here.
  • Peace and Positivity Music Video Release: Mark your calendars for June 21 for the release of "Peace and Positivity" — the forthcoming anthem of summer 2019! We're so excited to release this inspiring music video, written and performed by Fly By Light Alumni artists DougieD, Nfinity Zhy and Isaiah King. Check out a sneak peek here.
  • Mental Health Expansion: In addition, we are excited to continue expanding our school-based mental health services through a new grant from the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. We are now in the process of hiring a staff of social workers and clinicians to deepen and strengthen the work we are doing with our Fly By Light students and their families.

On behalf of our youth and staff, thank you for your support of One Common Unity. Because of you, we are able to continue building healthy, safe, and resilient communities through the transformative power of education and the arts. We couldn't do any of this without you, and we are so grateful for your support.

Mar 12, 2019

Investing in DC Youth! January - March 2019

2019 is off to a strong start and we are already in the midst of another transformative year of youth empowerment, education, artistic expression and mindfulness. We are proud to be in fifteen schools across all eight D.C. wards, impacting over 5,000 youth, families and teachers.

Highlights from the first quarter of 2019:

Legacy of a Dream Award: On January 21, Hawah Kasat, co-founder and executive director of One Common Unity (OCU), was honored as Georgetown’s 2019 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award recipient at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The university presents the award annually to an inspirational emerging local leader at the Let Freedom Ring! celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this year featuring Grammy and Tony award-winning artists Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Read more about this great honor here.

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Intention Not Detention: We were excited to move forward on a new program within our partner schools. The youth we serve attend under-resourced schools, lack access to enrichment opportunities, and too often struggle in the classroom, thereby impacting their overall academic progress. Low-income youth and youth of color are disproportionately more likely to become truant, receive out-of-school suspensions, or get expelled. To address these challenges, OCU has partnered with eight DC public schools across all eight wards, to embed social-emotional learning, trauma-informed, and restorative practices into school-level policies, practices, and classroom experiences. As part of this work, OCU program facilitators collaborate with partner schools to establish Intention Rooms™ as designated alternatives to in-school suspensions. Intention Rooms™ are safe, trauma-informed spaces to prompt students to reflect upon and transform their behavior, with the long-term goal of preventing future truancy and violence and addressing mental health challenges. Under the leadership of the Intention Room™ facilitator, students explore conflict resolution techniques, art and music therapy, mindfulness, restorative justice practices, and discuss the challenges they face in their daily lives.

Fly By Light Winter Showcase: On February 27, our Fly By Light youth and alumni artists from across Washington, D.C. shared original music, poetry, and dance at the 2019 Fly By Light Winter Showcase. Working in school and after-school with One Common Unity's facilitators in the Fly By Light program, these youth worked through art to find their voices, express themselves, and bring awareness to the issues they face as teens in D.C. -- we were honored to have over 130 community members who came out to see their art, listen to their stories, and be inspired by this beautiful, positive community of young leaders. ADD PHOTO(s)

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Fly By Light National Training: This February we were thrilled to launch a new initiative expanding our programming to include a national training which will certify teachers all over the country to lead Fly By Light chapters in their communities. Our award-winning program model and curriculum includes after-school and in-school workshops, overnight nature immersion retreats, annual city-wide showcases, professional development for teachers, parents, and other school administrators, and youth-led social justice campaigns. This summer, YOU can join educators, artists, and activists around the country who are passionate about building the next generations of changemakers and bring Fly By Light to your school or city! Learn more here.

Alumni Performance at NEXUS Summit: Our performance troupe consists of DC-Metro area youth who demonstrate a strong talent, passion, and commitment to performance and visual artistry as their central career focus. Our troupe artists train as transformative artists through the practice of “intentional creation”; concentrating in creating art that centers around OCU’s five pillars (artistic expression, social-emotional literacy, health and wellness, environmental leadership, and social justice). Through their art, they hope to promote healthy, thriving individuals and violence free communities. We were thrilled to have several of our alumni students and performance troupe members perform at the DC NEXUS Summit on March 8. 

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Coming up, we would be honored for you to join us Thursday, March 14 for an evening "Elevating Peace" to benefit One Common Unity. We’ll have a full bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres, great entertainment, and a great program so that you can connect more with OCU. Learn more and register here.

In addition, we are excited to begin expanding our school-based mental health services through a new grant from the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. We are now in the process of hiring a staff of social workers and clinicians to deepen and strengthen the work we are doing with our Fly By Light students and their families.

On behalf of our youth and staff, thank you for your support of One Common Unity. Because of you, we are able to continue building healthy, safe, and resilient communities through the transformative power of education and the arts. We couldn't do any of this without you, and we are so grateful for your support.

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