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On June 27, 2018, an historic event took place at the Lilydale First Baptist Church on Chicago far south side, where eight African American junior and high school students and their four chaperones from Chicago southside and suburbs boarded the church bus for Ohare International airport in Chicago and boarded airplanes to Berlin, Germany to participate in a 10-day youth development program that would change their attitude toward the world dramatically. Below documents the transformative activities and experiences of the youth.

The project was conceived in by one of the Lilydale Foundation board members, who has done extensive work in Germany. The Young Ambassador’s first project was a transatlantic basketball and cultural enrichment camp at the Dunne Technology Academy in the Roseland community in the summer of 2016. The camp hosted 15 young Germans from Berlin, Germany who were with the Kreuzberg Beats Basketball Club of Berlin. This past summer, the Kreuzberg Beats Basketball Club hosted the Young Ambassadors in Berlin, Germany.

The Berlin experience was the seven-hour flight to Berlin, Germany. None of the students had traveled that distance. For many students, this was their first airplane trip. Arriving in Berlin, the students’ world began to change. They were introduced to the German language, food, and mode of transportation. The only times they were in an auto were trips to and from the airport. They were introduced to the Berlin bus and subway system and walking. One of the chaperones were tracking her steps on the walking and exercise tracker, Fitbit. She logged 109,000 steps during that trip.

One of the greatest experiences of the program was the connection between the German and American students.  Almost all of the activities involved the American and German students. It should be noted that half of the German students were German of African descent. For those individuals, it was one of the few times they had extensive connections with individuals that look like them.

The American students had to make dietary adjustments. For example, the German breakfast is composed of fruits, cereal, boiled eggs, assorted meats such as German salami,  ham, and other sorted meats, and yogurt. There were no pancakes, scrambled eggs, or sausages. Ice was a rarity. After a few days, the students adjusted to the German diet.

The program was successful in carrying its 10-day itinerary. The students were busy participating in activities from the 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.  In this report, we will highlight a few of the activities that had the greatest responses from the student.

The accomplishment of objectives;

  1. Eighty percent of the staff and students selected to travel participated in the program;
  2. Carried out 90 percent of the stated activities (see the description of the activities);
  3. No action of the students required disciplinary action
  4. Forty percent of the student indicated that they would like to study in Germany in the future.

The accomplishments of the program

Community Day: The purpose of the community day was to introduce the community residents of the Kreuzberg District, which is multicultural, racially diverse, and friends of the Kreuzberg Beats Basketball Club (KBBC) to the Young Ambassadors. The American students were introduced to the German styled barbecue which included chicken, lamb, bratwurst, and fruits and vegetables. Over 100 persons attended the outing. Among the guests were some African American expatriates. Our Young Ambassadors engaged with many of the attendees, particularly the African Americans. The students were given insight into how one integrates into a different culture.

The African Quarters Tour:  The purpose of this tour was to educate our students about the relationship between  Africa and Germany, past and present. We wanted to educate them about colonialism and its effects on the people on the African continent.  The African quarter is a misnomer. It is not a place a where a large number of Africans live, but it is a district in Berlin where all the streets are named after African colonies of Germany and other European countries during the colonization period. For example,  there is Togostrasse (street), Cameroonstrasse, and Ghanastrasse. For many Germans and members of the African Diaspora, those street names are problematic. According to our guide, the residents do not want to change the signs. Our guide, a knowledgeable Tanzanian elder, took our students on a tour of the district, informing on what is colonization and the atrocities in that took place in the colonies during that time.

Our guide described the Herero and Nama Genocide. It was a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment of the two tribes in the Southwest Colony, known now as Nambia by the German Imperial Empire. According to our guide, over 85,000 Herero and Nama people were killed or died of starvation between 1904 and 1908. He indicated to the students that the United Nations and Germany finally recognized the German action as Genocide in the late 21stCentury. However, the German government has refused reparations to the descendants of the Herero and Nama people and Namibia.

The Topography of Horror Museum

The “Topography of Terror is documentation center, and its exhibition focused on the central institutions of the German Gestapo, the infamous Nazi paramilitary, organization and the police in the “Third Reich” and the crimes they perpetrated throughout Europe. Attention is given to the Nazi regime’s many victim groups alongside the portrayal of the system of terror. The exhibition had graphic pictures of the cruel treatment of Jews and other so-called-none-Aryans groups. The pictures were so graphic that we had to warn the student beforehand. The pictures were hangings, a mass grave of executed Jews, and the burning of Jewish homes. We had a docent that walked the students through the exhibits and discussed what they were seeing and giving them the context of the pictures. He posed thoughtful questions to the students. During our debriefing in the evening, the students indicated that the tour and the talk had given them a more in-depth understanding of the Holocaust and the extent of human cruelty.

Berlin, a cultural classroom

Using the subway (U-Bahn) on a daily basis, the students were able to experience the daily activities of Germans and the cultural attributes of the city of Berlin. The students integrated and engaged with Germans on a daily basis by riding the subway.

Cultural sites included: The famous Brandenburg Gate, German department stores and restaurants, parks, the American Embassy, among other sites. The students and their German peers spent an afternoon in one of the historical sites in post-war German Uny. It was the former Tempelhof airport operated by the United States. It was the hub of the Berlin airlift that took place a few years after the end of World War II. The airlift, lead by the United States,  kept the West Germans from starving.

Berlin was a divided city occupied by the United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia but it was located in East Germany in which it was administered by the Russian.  An agreement between the allies and Russia allowed supplies from West Germany to enter Berlin by auto or train. A dispute broke out between the Allies and Russia. Russia cut off all supply roads and railways to Berlin from West Germany. Instead of giving in to the Russians demand, the Americans decided to overcome the barriers by airlifting supplies into the city.

Another point of interest was the Checkpoint Museum named after the iconic military checkpoint in Berlin named Checkpoint Charlie. In the museum, guides explained to the students the location of the walls surrounding the divided city during the cold war. In the museum, the students saw different methods that Germans in East Berlin used to escape to West Germany.

Walking through the numerous neighborhood provided the students with a true picture of the diversity of German society. The students walked through various communities in Berlin and met Turkish, Africans, African American, and other groups. They had a chance to experience the food and community life of those residents. One example was Turkish fried chicken. It combined Turkish and Kentucky Fried Chicken ingredients.  The chicken was tasty.

The Basketball camp

Basketball was one of the common threads that connected the American and German youths was the basketball camp. Besides the skill development and physical fitness aspects, the key aspect was connecting the young people. It established a bond between the group that lasted throughout the 10 days. The camp was conducted on a daily basis. One of the major activities of the camp was the Pro Day. Professional basketball players from the German Basketball Leagues were present to mentor the youths. The young people developed basketball skills. The major disappointment was the lack of German girls to make up a basketball program for the girls. The host organization was not able to recruit girls to develop a training program. YAB girls were able to participate in a few segments of the camp. When not participating in the camp activities, the young ladies were videoing the activities.

One of the unintended accomplishment was helping the number of homeless individuals in Berlin. Our group provided box extra box lunches alone with plastic bottles which could be turned in for cash on a daily basis. Students and staff gave the homeless individuals receipts from refundable glass and plastic bottles. These individuals would take the receipts and obtain cash. One of our staff, Ms. Patricia Syles led that effort.

Benefits of the project

One of YAB goals was to provide a positive global experience for the students. We accomplished that. Students connected immediately with their German peers. They adjusted quickly to the things German, such as walking, eating the food, and riding the subway. There were no incidents between the groups.

Another goal of YAB was to have students become global citizens in which they have no fear of participating in future student exchanges abroad. We met that goal. At least three of the students had indicated an interest in studying in Germany. We are working with these individuals in providing them the opportunity to study in Germany.

Thus, from exit interviews and talking with the parents of the students, the students appeared to more socially engaged and confident which will spill over to improved academic engagement. In other words, they have a reason to be successful.

Future plans

The Young Ambassador Program goal is to expand the program to become a school-based program that concentrates on mentoring, academic skill development, and education engagement.  It would like to develop global citizens programs in schools in the Roseland and south suburbs areas. It envisions developing a global citizen pipeline that would increase the number of African American entering into study abroad programs in higher education and manufacture. Studies have shown that these programs produce excellent employment opportunities.

Program support

The Young Ambassador Program is a community-based program that has been growing. It has doubled its financial support. The funding was derived from the SocialWorks Foundation, the Minolta Corporation, and individuals. We established a GoFundme account, and 38 individuals from all walks of life contributed to the fund. Over 20 individuals made contributions to the program. Each student contributed $500 toward their airfare. SocialWorks funds were used for airfare for staff and students. As a matter of fact, its funds made the trip possible.

Lessons learned

One of the lessons learned is some of the major barriers that must be overcome when working with families from low-income families. They include the lack of knowledge and some cases fear of their child traveling to a place that feels like it is on the moon. The bureaucracy in obtaining a passport was daunting. One of the issues was single parents attempting to obtain the permission of the other spouse, who is not in the child’s life. Unfortunately, one of the YAP candidates became a victim.  For example, one single parent wanted her child to participate, but the child’s father, estranged, would not co-sign the required passport application despite the intervention of the YAP staff. As a result, the child missed out on an opportunity.


In summary, the program was able to accomplish the major goal of providing the students a positive international experience that begins a transformation to becoming a world citizen.

Schedule of Activities, Young Ambassadors Program-Berlin, June 28 – July 9, 2018

Thursday 6/28/2018 Depart Chicago, Il
Friday 6/29/2018 Arrive Berlin, Check into the Rainbow Factory Hostel
Saturday 6/30/2018 Meet with German peers and staff, get to know meeting and getting acquainted with the neighborhood where the activities will get to know, exchange and discuss the common

Activities, ideas, wishes, etc. Introduction video project

(Division of groups),

Then common basketball training &


Sunday 7/1/2018 Meet with members of the African American community:


Tour the Turkish community and meet with Turkish youths and community leaders

Monday 7/2/2018 Morning: visit a Berlin school of program participants

(last day of school), exchange with students and teachers


Tuesday 7/3/2018 Morning: Kreuzberg district: The Berlin youth show their neighborhood,

prepared tour (possibly with the help of a tour guide, possibly Kreuzberg Museum),

“Doner (a Turkish specialty sandwich) for Lunch.”

Afternoon: Workshop on “Living in the big city: Berlin &

Chicago “, then joint basketball training

Wednesday 7/4/2018 All-day: Tour through Berlin, the young people of Berlin show sights

and places in Berlin (Alex, Ku’Damm, Brandenburg Gate,


Thursday 7/5/2018 Afternoon: BBQ and BBall on the Tempelhof field together with

OWB: Exchange with young refugees and their experiences

Friday 7/6/2018 Morning: Visit “Topography of Terror / Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Center.”

with workshop and leadership

Afternoon: Visit Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, reflection

and discussion, then common basketball training

Saturday 7/7/2018 Morning: Studying in Germany – visit and guided tour of the

Humboldt University- Berlin, visit the International Office

Afternoon: Exchange with the African Diaspora Community (Joliba, Each

One Teach One …) Visit the African Quarter in Wedding

Sunday 7/8/2018 Morning: Berlin – Visit an African-American church, reception, and history of African Americans living in Berlin


Leisure activities in small groups of your choice

Afternoon: Visiting the famous television and observation tower in the famous Alexander Platz


Monday 7/9/2018 Depart Berlin, Germany to Chicago