Atlantic City's youths are boxed in on a small island, and Naeem Callaway says he hopes to help them break free.
"We want to show them there is more to life than just Wawa and Jersey tomatoes," said Callaway, who has worked with urban and rural youth for nearly a decade, both locally and across the country. "I've seen so many youth just settle for this area and not even try to get out of this area and see what else is being offered."
Seven months ago, Callaway started Get Out The Box Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to educating and mentoring at-risk youths and broadening their view of the world. The group, still in its infancy, is planning trips for its 30 participants, including a journey in April to Mount Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania.
But to attract children to his program, Callaway said, he had to "go where the kids are," leading his organizing effort to be driven mostly by social networking and Internet videos.
Callaway directs and stars in the videos, many of which feature footage of Atlantic City's streets and other surroundings in "the box." In one of his latest, he hopes to show a view that can give the city's youths an idea of what awaits them outside the city.
Callaway took his camera to his weekly visit to the beach and shot views of the ocean from one of the Boardwalk's piers.
"Every time I come to the beach, I stretch forth my hands and imagine that I'm touching another culture and hearing another language and experiencing the beauty of the world," he says as he narrates the video.
But for children to really understand what awaits them in the world, they need to go there themselves. It took a trip outside the box for Callaway to be inspired, also.
In addition to trips to Egypt and Israel, Callaway lived in San Jose, Calif., for a year, working as an after-school program director.
"When I returned, everything seemed so small," he said. "Once you get out of this area, you see the bigger picture. But a
lot of kids haven't left this area. That's one of things we're trying to do."
And with videos online at Livestream and YouTube, and networking on Facebook and Twitter, Callaway said his word is slowly spreading.
"I want the youth to understand that there is more to life than their hood, block or negative reality," he said. "You have only one shot, only one life."
Contact Michael Clark:
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To visit Get Out the Box online, see www.getoutthebox.org