More than a decade ago, Stephen "Brer Rabbit" Brackett of the Flobots co-founded Flobots.org with bandmates Jamie Laurie and Andy Guerrero. Since that time, Brackett has sat on the board of the social-justice and music-education nonprofit, which was later rebranded as Youth on Record.
Brackett recently joined the staff as director of special programs. We caught up with him over email to see what his plans are for the new position and the future of Youth on Record.
Westword: What does your director of special programs position entail?
Stephen Brackett: For the past eleven years, I sat on the board as a co-founder of Youth on Record. During that decade, we were constantly bombarded by requests for expansion. It was functionally the deepest kind of confirmation that we were doing good work, and it was something that the organization wasn't ready to do.
The director of special programs is our way of saying that we are developmentally ready and hyped to explore how Youth on Record addresses centering the brilliance of young people both within Denver and without.
How has Youth on Record’s vision changed since you co-founded it ten years ago?
In terms of vision, what was Flobots.org and what is Youth on Record is a difference of scope. When my band the Flobots first created this organization, it was done out of an impulse to serve and a desire to live out our lyrics through the framework of our city. Where the organization is now so far outstrips our original idea and exceeds our wildest imaginative impulses that we struggle to claim any credit for ourselves.
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We were a group of relatively young musicians who gave a damn and wanted to double down on making pathways toward power and agency. It was the city that responded and showed up and gave us the most brilliant collaborators that you could ask for. The biggest change over the years has been the sheer number of people who have brought their gifts to the table.
Can you talk about the trajectory of Youth on Record and how much it’s grown over the last decade, and is there more of a need now for an organization like Youth on Record than there was a decade ago?
Unfortunately, ten years after "Handlebars" come out, it is still painfully relevant. Ten years into this work, we have seen study after study reporting on how we are failing our children in the classroom. It has been almost universally admitted that black and brown children have been losing and not gaining ground over the last few decades in American classrooms. School-to-prison pipelines are growing in strength and momentum. You could set a Sharpie to a roll of toilet paper and list out how we are failing our youth, and still the fabric of our conversation would be too delicate and too short to bear the weight.
Even so, young minds are still brilliant, even when deprived, and music is a home base for every young person you have ever encountered. Oddly, as other institutions grow more distant and aloof, music is more present in a young person's life than ever before. That attenuation is our opportunity. We move our students from consumers to producers. Each class is an introduction to agency and self-determination. Unfortunately, that need is felt acutely in the current circumstance of our schools and neighborhoods. Fortunately, there are some interventions that can speak directly to that need.
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Where would you like Youth on Record to go in the next ten years?
The answer is simple: where we are invited. We will not go into a single school, home, community without being asked directly to come. A dialogue is the key ingredient to building agency. A large part of my role is to foster relationships across the state, to explore the possibility of what could be next. We would like to have Youth on Record programs running concurrently in 100 schools by 2029. The main determining factor will not be our preference; it will be the data that we gather from our statewide Youth Advisory Groups.
So if we find ourselves in 100 schools in ten years' time, it will mean that: We have built strong relationships with stakeholders in each of those communities, we have done the work well, young people all over the state/nation have convened and shared their expertise and recommendations, we have been consistent in our trauma-informed pedagogy, and slowly we are making this state a little louder, a bit more engaged, and more liberated overall.
Go to the Youth on Record website for more information about the group.