Meet Darcel: ‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind’

As the library’s Teen Services Specialist, Darcel Washington provides outreach and program support to kids in grades 6-12.

Darcel joined the library last November, bringing more than 15 years of experience in creating innovative youth development programs. With the library, she works on youth programs such as Living History and Leading Edge, plus this month’s all-virtual Restorative Justice Conference.

“Working with Darcel has been an honor and privilege,” says Manager of Teen Services Stephen Jackson. “She has added a fresh and unique perspective to working with teens. The work and relationships that she has built prior to the library have really expanded our reach since she has joined our team. Her work with young ladies, in particular, has diversified our offerings at Oak Park Public Library.”

Below, Darcel shares more about her work and life.

What are you hearing from teens in this moment? 

My work in outreach and programming for teens has definitely changed this year with everything transitioning to the virtual world. However, I am still able to maintain all of my strong community partnerships.

What I’m mainly hearing from teens is that they’d prefer to be in a classroom setting versus being in front of a computer screen. Other things I hear from teens is that they want to see real change happen. They are tired of hearing and seeing racism towards Black people. They are sick and tired of seeing racism in school, in their neighborhoods, and around the world. With the world being upside down, teens are looking for outlets to be heard and the support of caring adults at these uncertain times.

How are teens responding to these challenges? 

In my opinion, teens are responding to challenges by taking it one day at a time. They are strong and very resilient. In the recent Living History virtual session on community control of the police, teens expressed how traumatic situations affect their everyday lives and that it’s not okay for millions of dollars to go towards community policing while their communities continue to suffer and lack resources, which I agree with 100 percent.

How are you supporting teens this year?

We support teens in several ways. Recently we had a logo creation contest, where teens were given an opportunity to win cash prizes by creating a logo image to represent our Teen Services department. We have an ongoing partnership with Northwestern University, where we’re working on a project to design new smartphone apps that help teens better understand and manage their emotions, stress, and anxiety.

We also started the Leading Edge Teen Advisory Board a couple of months ago, and it’s been a huge success. Our teens are spreading the word, and it’s growing rapidly. The advisory board gives teens an opportunity to build their leadership skills, connect with other teens, and provides a space for them to share their thoughts and ideas about making the library and community safe for everyone.

What are you reading, watching & listening to now? 

I’m currently studying my Bible and reading Clever Girl Finance by Bola Sokunbi.

I think both titles speak for themselves. I’m studying the Bible to learn more about God’s word and to deepen my relationship with him. I’m reading Clever Girl Finance to become financially savvy and wealthy through the tips and techniques she shares.

I listen to motivational talks daily and I love gospel music, so you’ll probably see me bopping my head to Tasha Cobbs-Leonard or Kierra Sheard. They are both amazing gospel artists.

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