The story Our Mindful Kingdom Teen Summit begins with a Black teacher in the Denver Public Schools system.
“I taught for five years in over 50 schools in the Denver Metro area,” said Warren Stokes, co-coordinator of the summit.
Over his time as a substitute teacher, Stokes said that he became vocal about something that he heard regularly in every school.
“The kids were saying the n-word,” he said.
According to Stokes, those students were corrected on the use of a word that is a slur if used outside of the Black community.
Stokes said that the majority of the speakers were not Black students. In fact, in Denver Public Schools alone, only 13.5% of students are Black.
Stokes actually took to the news about the problem in 2021, to no avail.
“I ended up blackballed from teaching in DPS because I went to the news,” Stokes said.
Then, toward the end of the 2023 school year, Stokes’ son, Brandon, came home hurt because a white student had called him the n-word.
“I was ready to fight,” Warren said. “But I had to do something else.”
That’s where the summit comes in.
Warren partnered with Tosha Anders, founder of Our Mindful Kingdom, a nonprofit group dedicated to programming that helps Black teens and families with mental health topics.
Anders and Warren came together with the help of a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to create a space for Black teens in the Denver Metro area to have their voices heard.
The 2023 African American Teen Summit was Aug. 11 at Denver’s Central Park.
Warren said that he hopes to make it an annual event, as Black students need somewhere to let out the thoughts and feelings that have been pent up.
He said that this realization came from seeing the emotions Brandon went through after being called the n-word by a White student, who had a history of bullying Brandon. Warren said that his son was angry, sad and then frustrated about the incident.
At the Our Mindful Kingdom Teen Summit, Brandon spoke about the incident and how he felt. He was not alone. The one-day event included Anders’ children and others who came to speak about their experiences at various Denver Metro area schools.
And they had a lot to say.
During a breakout session, the teens discussed their frustrations with school. In many cases, the students were one of a handful or the only Black student in their classes.
Warren’s son Markus Stokes also shared that his appearance made his non-Black peers in school react negatively before they got to know him.
“You always have to prove yourself,” Markus said.
Other teens explained how they felt invisible in school, only seen when they are feared, belittled or reprimanded.
According to summit participant Jayden Anders, the situation is compounded for him, because he is also a disabled student.
Anders added that the teachers were unprepared to meet his needs as a Black student.
“If the school doesn’t teach us, we have to find someone else to do it or learn on our own,” Anders said.
The summit was more than just a space to talk about those experiences.
Warren not only guided the students through exercises to help them get in touch with their feelings and experiences, but he also helped them channel that into actionable community-building steps.
This was the second half of the summit, which came after a break for dancing, pizza and communing amongst the teens present. Warren said that he intended for the summit to be fun.
The community building portion began with the students discussing their fears, recognizing threats (mental health and peer-related, not just the violence) and turning those into positive moves. They also spoke about their strengths and weaknesses.
Warren explained that these exercises were designed to help the students get to know themselves.
“You are doing things today that grown people, adults, cannot do,” he said and congratulated the teens on facing some deep parts of themselves.
Malya Anders was another student who shared that her confidence was something that she needed to work on. However, she revealed that speaking at the summit was actually helping her with confidence already.
Her brother Jaylen said they need to talk more about “purpose and how to be a positive change.”
“We can’t just talk about it,” Lashayla Sloan said. She urged the group to consider action to go with their words.
Warren added that words are not a reason to react negatively.
“All of you have been called names and disrespected. But unless they put hands on you, it doesn’t matter,” he said. Instead, he urged the students to use some of the tools they learned that day.
Warren ended the summit with a reflection on not just the space they occupied, but the state they all live in.
“Denver is a special place, a unique place,” he said.
He described the natural activities, open spaces and winter sports. He added that Denver was a progressive place.
“But there’s still racism,” he said.
He told the students that they could no longer sit and suffer in silence. They needed to form a community and use that collective voice to speak their truth to adults at school, at home and to the government.
You can find more information on Our Mindful Kingdom at www.OurMindfulKingdom.org.