Renegades For Life, first founded in Chicago, Illinois, recently created a new chapter in Seattle, Washington. Opened by Saleem Robinson in 2016, they have a mission to change the lives of youth and families. Through careful intervention, Renegades For Life provides them with with comprehensive tools that acquire sustainable futures for their well-being and lives – keeping families together.
Executive Director, Saleem understands the complexities of youth engagement and outreach. Born and raised in Chicago, Saleem found himself falling through the cracks by spending much of his youth getting into trouble and selling drugs, but fortunately, he was able to take the advice from his mentor and pursue higher education. “Most kids selling drugs don’t want to be involved in such activities, but they feel as though it is their only option. I want to represent the possibilities.” Soon after moving to Seattle, Saleem obtained his degree in psychology from the University of Washington, and then received his master’s in social work. From then onwards, Saleem has believed that we all must lead by example and be the message that we bring.
“At Renegades For life, we ride around the town, identify young people, introduce ourselves, and then we tap into them to learn about how long they’ve been on the streets, what their issues may be, and we come to find out that some have been let down by the system or by foster care.” Some go into Renegades For Life’s Youth Outreach Programs for the first time as individuals. They are introduced to multi-systemic therapy, a treatment designed to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders, and cognitive behavior therapy. Others seek functional family therapy and treatment that supports them as young parents. These youth are all introduced to the various programs through outreach on the streets.
“Outreach is the most important. Renegades For Life engages with youth, throws birthday parties, and drives people around town to showcase the good side of life and what they can achieve.”
All staff at Renegades For Life are unpaid and volunteer their time to connect with at-risk youth. Saleem, along with the team’s mentors, connect with youth at a time in their lives when they’re vulnerable and when many believe that nobody cares to present opportunities. The team at the organization looks at the goals, strengths, and growth opportunities of the youth to help them map out a plan that’ll allow them to manage their own outcomes. “We tell them that we may not have all of the solutions to their problems, but we have the tools.” Renegades For Life is unique in its approach in that they go into the courts to instill plea bargains by recruiting young offenders into their programs and mentorship opportunities. They also introduce youth to jobs, resources from their partners, and activities. “Our greatest accomplishment is to be able to witness some of the young people’s lives change and see them on the path of productivity.”
Renegades For Life was developed to impact Black, Indigenous, and young people of color who are vulnerable and have been cut off from assistance due to systems of racism designed to overlook them. The organization has since mobilized its response to the effects of COVID-19 on the most marginalized communities in King County and the greater Seattle area. They’ve increased their engagement opportunities to get in touch with youth on the streets, and they joined Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) at the beginning of 2020 to network with other organizations in the youth development and advocacy fields. “YDEKC represents the biggest coalition of nonprofit youth organizations in Washington State. They’re educational, informative, and knowledgeable.” For Renegades For Life, YDEKC has offered support through shared information about grants, strategies for team collaboration and organization sustainability, and impact stories. “There’s no other organization that’s doing what YDEKC does.”
It’s never too late to support youth in their efforts to become successful in school. Youth are resilient and best prepared to step into their roles as leaders when they have guidance. Renegades For Life will be hosting their very first back-to-school giveaway this Saturday, August 28, from 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. at Garfield Community Center to offer youth and families backpacks, note pads, pens, pencils, and PPE. If you can’t attend, consider making a gift to support this event and giveaways in the future.