Black History Month Highlight: Project Oz

Publisher: ICOY Staff

jay photo

During Black History Month, ICOY invited member organizations to join the celebration by submitting a blog post highlighting a black hero who has impacted their organization’s mission and goals.

Project Oz Black Hero

“Hey, Mr. Shannon!  Good to see you… I have great news to tell you!” On any given day with Jawanza “Jay” Shannon, you’re likely to be flagged down by young people eager to talk and spend time with him. It’s easy to understand why – his relaxed manner of listening, welcoming smile, and remarkable story-telling skills set young people at ease and help them reframe challenges in positive ways without lecturing or nagging.

Jay is an accomplished, veteran youth worker and is currently the Manager of School Outreach at Project Oz in Bloomington, IL. A native of Chicago, he draws on his background growing up, his education at Illinois State University, his faith, and his extensive professional experience, to design and implement programs that have inspired positive outcomes for thousands of young people.

Jay’s work has centered on reducing the achievement gap, especially for black and brown students and those from low-income backgrounds. He began his 17-year career with Project Oz working in the schools, providing individualized support and creating action plans to reduce truancy, suspensions, and increase academic engagement. In this role, Jay served as a positive, caring adult who helped hundreds of students reach their full potential. He also trained over 400 youth in peer mediation and helped connect students with leadership opportunities which led to college and employment placement. Later, he developed a summer internship program and a year-round youth employment program to help youth overcome barriers to employment, develop essential “soft skills”, gain job-related experience, and explore future career options.

As a leader at Project Oz, Jay plays a critical role in shaping our mission and strategy. He is a certified Restorative Professional/Trainer through the International Institute for Restorative Practices. His deep knowledge and practical experience in this area have allowed the agency to incorporate the principles of restorative practices throughout our work with young people. His strong relationships with school administrators, teachers, staff, and students helped expand Project Oz’s restorative schools program, including facilitating restorative conferences, trainings, and listening circles on important topics to spark peaceful dialogue, understanding, and healing. As a manager, he serves as an expert mentor for his staff and prioritizes opportunities for them to grow and develop their skills as professional youth workers.

Jay inspires his co-workers, students, and school and community partners with his dedication and on-going efforts to create a more restorative community where all young people feel valued and supported!

Submitted by Project Oz Executive Director Lisa Thompson.

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