Alkebu-lan Village, Detroit, Michigan


Demographic Snapshot

Detroit, MI

Largest city in Michigan

Known as the world's traditional automotive center

Total population in metropolitan Detroit: 5.2 million

10.6% White/Caucasian
82.7% Black/African American
1.1% Asian American
0.4% American Indian
6.8% Hispanic/Latino of any race

Median household income: $25,787

Alkebu-lan Village is an after-school, community-based program serving mostly African American and low-income young people and their families residing in impoverished areas of Detroit’s east side, neighborhoods where a disproportionate number of youth live in single-parent homes. Alkebu-lan Village started in 1978 to provide affordable martial arts training for African American youth. Today, the organization provides comprehensive, after-school care for youth, including a hot meal, a study period, and a variety of youth development activities. Alkebu-lan Village focuses on “strengthening families.”

Alkebu-lan Village collaborates with five neighboring elementary schools and other local nonprofits. Maxine Willis, multimedia training coordinator and MSY Program coordinator, intentionally aimed to recruit an equal number of students from the five neighboring schools—about three students from each school—so that word about the MSY Program would spread more widely to other students and teachers.


Alkebu-lan Village is an Afrikan-centered, community-based organization committed to developing and nurturing an environment where families work together to build healthy minds, bodies, and communities.

Program Implementation

Alkebu-lan Village provided three 10-week sessions of the MSY Program in one location (7701 Harper, Detroit). Alkebu-lan Village automatically assigned youth to participate in the MSY Program (with up to 15 youth per session) who met the age requirement and were currently enrolled in Alkebu-lan Village after-school and summer programs. Parents who were interested could attend a program orientation. After the first 10-week session, Alkebu-lan expanded the MSY lessons from 1½ to 2 hours and allocated the last 30 minutes of each class toward the Big Production. In addition, youth in all three programs met during an 11th week for 2 hours to complete the Big Production.

The first Big Production consisted of youth creating a hip hop song and dance with the message, “Don’t eat that fatty food.” Youth wrote letters to a local television station, MY TV-20, requesting that it air their messages on the K.E.Y.S. (Kids Enjoy YourSelves) KIDS show. Danszar De Dinosaur, one of the main characters on K.E.Y.S. KIDS, conveyed MSY Program messages several times. The second Big Production involved youth encouraging the Village storeowner to provide healthy alternatives to the main snack offerings of nachos and candy. The storeowner, in response to the youth’s presentation, added nutritious snacks to the store inventory. These youth also created a video skit to encourage other youth to purchase healthy snacks. The video skit features youth on a field trip to the fruit market, purchasing fruits and vegetables they had never tried until the MSY Program. The third Big Production engaged youth in the development of a video of MSY Program participants sharing what they learned during the program, a montage of what youth enjoyed most, and participants receiving certificates of completion and fruit baskets.

Youth and Community Response to the Media-Smart Youth Program

Before participating in the MSY Program, youth would “run to the store to buy hot nachos or Skittles.” During the program, the youth got the owner of the store to offer fruit and granola bars for the first time. “This change was driven by the kids!”

Maxine Willis, Coordinator

The MSY nutrition component—which included taking a trip to the fruit market, bringing home baskets of fruit, and reading Nutrition Facts labels—had a huge impact on participants, according to Ms. Willis. Much of the nutrition information was “new and different” to them. One participant exclaimed, “I never knew how to read food labels; now, I’m going to show my mom.”

“The kids didn’t even know what calcium was, had never tried a mango or some nuts before, and had no idea about the sugar and fat content that they were eating. When they tried banana chips, for example, they loved them!” Ms. Willis shared. A clear indication of the effect of the MSY nutrition lessons was the change in food items offered by the Alkebu-lan Village convenience store. Before participating in the MSY Program, youth would “run to the store to buy hot nachos or Skittles.” During the program, the youth got the owner of the store to offer fruit and granola bars for the first time. “This change was driven by the kids!” added Ms. Willis.

Another way MSY Program participants took initiative in the nutrition area was to serve healthy snacks to all Alkebu-lan Village youth. After school, Alkebu-lan kids receive a hot meal when they first arrive and before they begin homework and are then directed to their prospective classes. MSY participants enjoyed being kitchen helpers—for example, by cutting celery and carrots—as well as engaging in dialogue with their peers about what they had learned. “Do you know how much fat content is in that?” one MSY participant asked another Alkebu-lan Village youth.

Because MSY participants had to decode commercials and messages through the media skills and analysis component of the MSY Program, Ms. Willis heard the following comments from youth: “My mom said, ‘You know more than I do about healthy eating’”; “I will never look at commercials about food the same”; “I will not sit in front of the TV all day and play video games”; “When I get up in the morning, I will not eat chips and donuts; I will eat something healthy”; and “We talked about things that we don’t learn in school.” Parents, too, remarked that their children “had never talked about commercials like that before.” And, parents have shared that as a result of the program, they have changed their eating habits and discuss media messages with their children.

The games and exercises included in the MSY Program physical activity lessons “were what made the program fun and exciting, especially when the kids started to get antsy.” Participants’ favorite activities included the “Motion Commotion” and “Snacks and Better Bones” lessons, field trips, and the Big Production. According to Ms. Willis, “The most fascinating thing to the kids was seeing themselves in the Big Production and feeling a sense of pride in what they helped to create.”

Ms. Willis added, “Facilitators had the opportunity to have fun, too.” The facilitators liked the detailed structure, flexibility, and adaptability of the program, the ready-made resources, and that the hands-on, interactive activities helped keep youth interested and involved.

The Village also made 11 presentations from March 2013 through August 2013 that reached approximately 220 parents, community members, and business leaders to promote, and seek support for, the MSY Program.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

Ms. Willis understands the importance of adult role modeling for children, so during the train-the-trainer session, she secured buy-in from her staff on ways MSY would sustain Alkebu-lan’s mission and on the importance of involving the whole family. That said, some MSY participants faced resistance at home when their parents/guardians argued that their budget does not allow for healthier foods. To address this issue, Ms. Willis integrated role-playing activities for youth participants to practice. They learned ways to talk about MSY information with family members. Ms. Willis also sent home personalized letters with tips on how parents/guardians can address related questions from their children. Youth participants also recounted stories of telling their parents/guardians to visit Subway instead of McDonalds (and selecting healthier options) and buying frozen yogurt sticks instead of ice cream, as a direct result of what they learned in the MSY Program. Ms. Willis involved parents/guardians by sending home handouts that included recipes, which parents/guardians “loved,” and talking with them when they picked up youth after MSY sessions.

Ms. Willis observed changes in knowledge from the pre- and post-curriculum assessment surveys. Whereas participants took a long time to complete the pre-curriculum assessment survey, they knew the answers for the post-curriculum assessment survey. “It is so rewarding seeing the kids showcase what they learned,” Ms. Willis proudly noted.

Looking Ahead

“From day one, we were sold on the Media-Smart Youth Program.”

Maxine Willis, Coordinator

Ms. Willis stated she is “professionally and personally committed to sustaining the Media-Smart Youth Program.” As a professional in the area of drug prevention education for 30 years, she feels the MSY Program “is well written and covers everything. From day one, we were sold on the Media-Smart Youth Program.” Given her current relationships with TV20, TV33, and local radio station WHPR FM, Ms. Willis plans to continue to disseminate MSY messages. She already has approached OfficeMax, Staples, and Whole Foods for donations to be able to implement the MSY Program again. She communicated with these potential partners when she frequented their stores January 2013 through June 2013 to purchase MSY supplies and talked about the value in sustaining the MSY Program in the community after June.

Ms. Willis has presented on the MSY Program at the City Council, Detroit Health Department, and Wayne State University, the latter of which has expressed interest in implementing MSY during its self-esteem camp. Last but not least, MSY participant family members, especially older Alkebu-lan Village members (age 14 and 15), have asked to take part in MSY. As she could accept only 15 kids per MSY Program, Ms. Willis thinks she can include older teens as peer helpers during the summer program. She advises future MSY Program coordinators and facilitators to “get the needed materials and supplies ahead of time and involve parents as much as possible.”

In summary, the Alkebu-lan Village onsite store now provides a variety of healthy snacks; the MSY Program has been integrated into existing Village programming; the monthly Village night will include a “Media-Smart Parents” activity where parents conduct healthy snack demos; a local television station is soliciting a sponsor to feature a segment on the MSY Program to air weekly; four neighboring schools have requested training in the MSY Program; and a local business across from the Village has provided space for youth to grow a garden.