It’s ANYTOWN season at Community Tampa Bay. Two weeks ago, we transformed the lives of 48 youth who had the opportunity to experience a community free from all forms of discrimination – a community where their voices mattered and were heard – for one week.

 

Sunday, we welcome over 60 ANYTOWN delegates to our second session.

 

Heading into this ANYTOWN session, this is what we know:

 

• Last year, more than 100 unarmed black individuals were killed by police officers. In the Jim Crow era south, there were an average of 40 lynchings of African-Americans per year. That is to say, in 2014, the institution charged with ensuring the safety of our towns, cities, neighbors and families was responsible for more than double the deaths of black individuals than race-based lynchings during our country’s period of legal segregation.

 

• Just this week: Sandra Bland was pulled over, removed from her vehicle and slammed to the ground, as captured in video footage, after failing to use a turn signal. She was subsequently jailed. The Waller County Sheriff, in whose jail Sandra Bland was found dead, was fired for documented racist conduct in another county in 2008.

 

• On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. In Florida, if you are gay or lesbian, you can be fired and evicted on the grounds of your sexual orientation with no legal protections or recourse.

 

• More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault are among the most likely to become victims of human trafficking.

 

• The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. In 2015, the average annual earnings of half of all individuals with a disability is just $15,000. In Hillsborough County, an annual salary that reflects a living wage is $21,000.

 

At ANYTOWN, we serve male and female youth; black, brown, white and multi-racial youth, as well as youth from various ethnic backgrounds, including Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern. We serve youth with disabilities; youth who have been or are experiencing homelessness; youth who identify as LGBT and youth with many different faith beliefs. We serve youth who are eligible for free and reduced lunch and youth who are not.

 

Providing a safe space for diverse youth to explore their own identities, get to know others who don’t look like them or who come from different backgrounds and to engage in hard conversations about challenges we face – and perpetuate – based on our social identities (race, gender, etc.) is what makes ANYTOWN a transformative experience.

 

And the reality is that, right now, our society is short on providing a safe space for many of our youth if they are black or brown, are experiencing poverty or homelessness, if they are female or LGBT, have different abilities, are immigrants, don’t speak English as their first language or identify with a faith belief other than Christianity. The statistics above – and there are many more we can cite – bear that out. This is why ANYTOWN and Community Tampa Bay’s other programs serving youth, young adults and adults could not matter more than they do now. The work we do is not just necessary, it is urgent.

 

Communities that offer the safety of non-discrimination for all of their citizens are safer and experience better health, education and economic outcomes. To ensure a bright future for our whole community, we must ensure that all youth feel safe, are heard, are treated justly and are given opportunities to lead.

 

At Community Tampa Bay, this is our pledge and our daily work. But we can’t do it alone.

 

Can we count on you to join us in ending discrimination?