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Desert Hot Springs Stands Tall!

(Pictured above: a few familiar faces from DHS seated with my wife and I)
Recently here in the Coachella Valley, BRAAF (Building Resilience in African American Families) hosted their annual Juneteenth Celebration. This event is the annual celebratory of the culmination of their Afrocentric Youth & Family Rites of Passage Program (ROP), a program that is geared toward African – American youth ages 11-15 here in the Coachella valley. The celebration was an all- white affair that hosted many current and future community leaders in an atmosphere of great food an amazing music. In addition to the entertainment and dignitaries in attendance, there was an award ceremony where several attendees were recognized for their community involvement and leadership. It should be noted that although the reach of this program extends valley wide, a majority of the award winners were from Desert Hot Springs!!! I was able to interview all of them, allow me to introduce you to our champions!!

Naim Muhammed- Kuumba: To do always as much as we can in the way that we can in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.

Naim is a self starter, go getter, and the young man always has a dance in his step. He is a natural leader who dances to the beat of his own drum. Concerning his award he stated, “I’m so thankful to be apart of the Rights of Passage program. I have grown so much and learned so much through this program. I was also nominated for the Kuumba award and won. Kuumba means to have creativity: to do as much as we can in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. I am honored for this award and I am determined to make an impact in our community as much as I possibly can.”

Devaughn Porter- Kujichagulia- Self Determination:”To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.”

Devaughn is coming into his own. Upon meeting him, he was perceived to be a little shy. However, there is a giant inside of this young man, one that’s ready to stand tall! He commented, “To win the Kujichagulia award means that I was determined to succeed and I was self motivated to mentally and emotionally grow to be a better king. I was also happy that I was able to make my momma happy because she and all of riverside county knows now that I was determined to be better than I was when I first came to California.”

Deijan Tiller Strong- Nia- “To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community.”

Deijan is positioning himself to become a world changer. He is multi talented, reliable, and once he figures out his full potential… watch out world! He told me, “Winning this award means a lot to me because other people in the community see my purpose. I’m beyond grateful to show my purpose and get recognized in a good way.”

Jarvis Williams oversees the program. Many of us have witnessed him traveling throughout the valley impacting the lives of many of our youth. I asked him about his ‘why’…

“Growing up with no Father, no one to stand in the gap and truly show up for me, I want to ensure that our boys know that there is a Man who will stand in the gap for them! After the loss of my own son at birth, I embrace the blessing and opportunity to be a community father to many, but above all I do it because I genuinely love my son’s (these Kings) and as long as God allows me to I will continue to love, teach, lead, and guide them.”

Kephyan Sheppard (that’s me!)- Umoja- Unity: To strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in the family community, and nation.

Finally, I was awarded with the ‘Community Leader of the Year’ award. There were four of us nominated, and the vote was so close that for the first time ever, there were co- winners. It was an honor to receive the award on behalf of all that we have aspired to and will continue to do to advance DHS and surrounding communities. I am a firm believer that we need to do all we can to leave better communities for future generations.

These awards are proof that DHS is impacting not only our community, but the entire Coachella Valley. In my humble opinion, the fact that many from our city were recognized serves as evidence that DHS is home to some of the most amazing people in the valley!

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