A group of students is on a mission: to break the stereotypes of what young Black men are and what they’re capable of.
They’re called Team Voyage. The teacher who started it says it’s an opportunity to level the playing field and to highlight the often-unreported and ignored fact that there are a lot of young Black men doing great things, including the young men at their high school. They hope by shifting the narrative, they open the door for racial progress in an organic way.
“Sophomore year I came here from New Jersey and my Spanish teacher approached me with opportunity,” said Page High School junior Jaiden Fraser. “At first I wasn’t sure what it was because the school I came from, we didn’t have anything like it.”
Jaiden Fraser is part of Team Voyage, a nonprofit group that is exclusive to Page High School.
“People see us. We walk around in these shirts and they look at us and they’re like ‘oh all the young Black guys are wearing these shirts’ and we set the example for the school,” Fraser said. “My favorite part is us coming together every week. It’s like a brotherhood. The unity is my favorite part about it.”
Summer Hunter started Team Voyage five years ago. The group is working to increase academic investment and social capital in African American young men. They take the team concept. She’s the general manager.
“We have coaches who are various community members who have stepped up to kind of help guide and be there to give advice, to be there to support in any way they can,” Hunter explained.
It was their response to events that put race front and center of discourse and debate.
“We take the time to reflect on what’s going on in the world. What are you confused about? What are you struggling with? What are you mad about? We allow that time to reflect, and feel, and express what they feel. And talk about how we’re going to fight back in a positive way,” Hunter said.
“Trayvon Martin, for me. That was the first time in my life that I realized the color of my skin could get me killed for doing nothing,” said Team Voyage alumnus Nick Baker.
Baker says when he heard about this group focused on Black male empowerment, education, mentorship, and community service, he was all in.
“We reached out to people. We ran food drives. We did a yearly teddy bear drive while I was there. I remember one year a teacher actually got her house broken into right before Christmas and the robbers stole all her son’s gifts. We did a toy drive for her and her son.”
Beyond the food drives they do annually, they’ve done a domestic violence awareness campaign, and most recently a virtual celebration of Black history. And the coaches check on their grades every week. If the guys are struggling and need help, the coaches get help for them. Baker is now a junior at Davidson College.
“You give young Black men the opportunity to get stuff off their chest,” he said about the experience in Team Voyage. “You give them the opportunity to vent and to show their emotions and just have a knit family they might not have at home.”
He explained the class differences in the school.
“When you have kids coming from Irving Park, they’re not going to understand the kids coming from Claremont in Greensboro. They’re not going to understand the two different lifestyles they’re living. Some of them won’t ever care to understand, which is why spaces like Team Voyage are so important to have.”
And the racial differences.
“They didn’t see the purpose in having an all-Black male group in the school. They looked down upon us,” he said. “For us, it was all about breaking those stereotypes of being the angry Black man, the dangerous Black man that you see walking down the street that’s going to make a white person cross to the other side.”
And with every broken stereotype, they hope broken barriers follow as this team continues its voyage to real conversations – regardless of background or race.