Innerverse: preparing Black youth for greatness from the inside out
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The early teen years, a time when internal struggles and external influences can make thriving in middle school nearly impossible, and doubly challenging for Black youth, a Houston-based non-profit seeks to empower these young people for success from the inside out.

Innerverse, a Houston-based education consulting firm is on a mission to restore teens’ sense of personal value so they can make well-informed decisions for future planning including college, career and life in general.

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And for Innerverse co-founder, Angela L. Johnson, it all starts with a healthy sense of self-awareness.

“Our specialized curriculum uses proven psychological, sociological and physiological principles of adolescent development that empower them to embrace fully who they are, thereby revitalizing their experience of meaningful learning at their most vulnerable, yet critical stage of personal development,” said Johnson, a PVAMU alumna.

Established in the Fall of 2020, Innerverse developed a proactive approach that addresses low student engagement and lack of authentic, positive social experiences for middle schoolers. The Houston-based Innerverse is determined to prove to the world that learning about “self” in a relevant way, is necessary for all, but especially for middle schoolers.

Angela L. Johnson. Photo by Aswad Walker.

“We set out to define a model that enlists young adults’ participation in their own self-discovery, believing a lack of sovereignty, coupled with the naturally difficult process of adolescent development, are partly the cause of many frustrations experienced at this level. We empower their ability to find authority in their journey into adulthood, especially when they are expected to make life-changing decisions as early as their freshman year in high school. We are their champions for self-realization,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, program participants learn how to embrace their unique qualities, then apply strategies to translate them into positive contributions to themselves, their families and their communities. Students are also equipped with the ability to self-manage their thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions, thereby growing in self-awareness and self-mastery.

“Few things are more empowering than realizing you are the master of your own fate. That’s what Innerverse gives its students,” added Johnson.

Innerverse has two upcoming workshops for students (8th – 12th grade) and parents on Nov. 5 (9a.m. – 2p.m.) and Nov. 19 (9a.m. – 3p.m.) at the Journey Conference & Retreat Center (3210 Land Rd., Houston, 77047.

The first workshop, ‘Recalibrate, Reset… Go!’ is centered on the emotional deep dive, the real work that we need to do to discover what’s causing the disconnection. The onus is on us as parents. The students will be in their own workshop where they’ll go through the vocabulary of virtue values using different examples like the Chris Rock/Will Smith fiasco that happened because there was a disconnect between virtues and values in that moment.

The program is offered in four ways: 1) online, 2) individual in-person sessions, 3) group classroom meetings and 4) workshop presentations.

“Innerverse has been a long time coming, this collaboration between me and my two other co-founders who are also teachers. And we’re not just in Houston, Texas, but also from Columbia, South America, New York, and Washington, DC. And we all realize that children, no matter where they’re from, all need the same basic things. Let’s just start there. Yes, culture is important, of course. Background is important, of course. But so too is implanting in our youth the idea that you are human. You are here on this earth and implanted with God-given rights to be who you are, designed to be something that nobody can take away from you,” said Johnson.

Johnson recognizes the way the K-12 education system has failed Black children in particular, but doesn’t place the blame there for the “disconnect” so many of them experience from their full potential.

“I think as parents, we’re probably doing a greater disservice to our own children than even the public school system, because the public school system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. We cannot be mad at them. We should have taken a hint when they told us they didn’t want us in their schools in the first place. But here we are, and now our children are out here running amuck in the schools. So, Innerverse is a nonprofit where we are guiding sixth to eighth graders through an inner discovery of their values, their virtues, their gifts and their talents, and using that as a conscious platform to build their future for high school and beyond.”

A large part of the Innerverse program includes going back to basics.

“We do things with our students like physical engagement. We take them outside to keep their energy up because that’s a very big thing for our culture and our people. We have to have physical engagement interactions with each other. That’s something that’s been taken out of the schools,” said Johnson about Innerverse’s very intentional crafting of an environment that can create an opportunity for a child to feel safe, supported and able to have a voice in school.

“Children don’t have a voice. They don’t have the ability to speak. They have no power. They have no authority over who they are in that space. And we already know that’s a perfect setup for the school-to-pipeline. Prison is the only other place where you don’t have a voice, where you are told what to do and why. In the school system, should that even be allowed” Johnson asked rhetorically?

“I’m not mad at the school system. This is our responsibility. So, Innerverse has created an environment that is not going to give our children a pipeline to prison. We’re going to give you an elevation to who you are. And the parents at the same time are going to be having a workshop where we’re talking about what are some of the guilts, what are some of the experiences that you have that are forming your opinions for your child. Have you really thought intentionally about who you want your child to be in this world and what are you actively doing with actionable words to let your child know that this is the hope that you have for them?”

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...