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The Yuinion

111 East Kirby
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Ron Lee

By Tunde Wey
September 26, 2012

Ronald Lee is tall with an athlete’s self –assurance. Recognizable with his shoulder length dread locks, Lee is part of a team working furiously to blunt the more destructive messages of mainstream music and culture. A hip-hop producer and youth counselor, Lee is program coordinator at The Yuinon, a faith-based youth mentoring nonprofit.

The Yuinon, pronounced “union”, is an organization that was founded at the intersection of faith and music. It was started in 2003 by Jason Wilson, a former rapper with legendary underground group Kaos & Mystro. Initially launched as a Christian Gospel record label, it evolved into a nonprofit as a response to what he perceived as the severity of the challenges facing youth. Although the music from the label was uplifting and positively affecting its audience, Wilson observed an unfulfilled need to continuously inspire youth after the music was over.

Since then the Yuinon, which officially became a federally-recognized nonprofit in 2006, has grown from a single program – the abstinence program Wait Up – to four primary youth mentoring programs. Together these programs have reached over 5,000 youth in the Detroit area.

While it directly works with youth, the Yuinon also provides programming assistance and instruction to adults regarding youth mentoring. It works with a growing community partner base of over 40 local churches, foundations, federal agencies and schools. Through this coalition of partners, the organization provides youth an alternative message that is purposely delivered in the language of popular culture while being explicitly positive and uplifting.

The Yuinon considers its ministry aberrant in today’s overly sexualized and gratuitously violent media culture. It is a defiant reaction to the lack of positive messages – sonic, visual and otherwise – available to youth. Specifically, the Yuinon sees the influence of commercial rap music, with violent and misogynistic themes, as contributive to the general atmosphere of apathy especially prevalent among youth. The programs of the Yuinon reflect this work to undo the effects of negative stimulus on young people.

The Yuinon’s programs are “abstinence” programs. Nicole Wilson, wife of founder Jason Wilson and also an executive officer in the organization, defines abstinence not as being confined to sexual conduct but rather including all manner of “high-risk” behavior. Violence, alcohol and drug use are among the problems the Yuinon is working to reduce and stop. With partners such as Wayne County Children and Family Services, the Yuinon mentors youth between the ages of 7 and 17 through afterschool programming.

S.W.A.G. (Students With Awareness and Goals) is a primary program of the Yuinon. It is a 12-week life skills and abstinence program focusing on topics such as self-esteem, communication, conflict resolution and healthy relationships. Lee says the program currently serves about 300 young people annually through local high schools and churches.

Since 2010 the Yuinon has been developing a mentoring-through-music program called KEYS 2 LIFE. A pilot program was run at George Washington Carver Academy in Highland Park and John R King Academic and Performing Arts Academy. KEYS 2 LIFE is currently running at a local church and The Matrix Human Services Center in Osborn. The program has served about 85 kids, teaching music production and hip-hop song writing with an emphasis on using these techniques to educate and empower the youth.

Cave of Adullam, a mentoring-through-martial arts program for young boys, is another of the Yuinon’s program offerings. Supported in part by The United Way, the program instructs in self-defense as a tool to instill confidence, discipline and emotional security as well as teach fitness.

The success of the Yuinon is connected to its deep understanding of youth culture. Lee embodies this understanding. From freestyle rapping during his lunch breaks in high school to dreams of a professional career in basketball, Lee’s experiences have consistently influenced his paramount passion to guide youth positively.

Although he is now a gospel rapper, his earlier artistic baptism was in the waters of more secular rap music. “I loved hip-hop even though I was not always able to listen to it because of the vulgarity, but I would still sneak and listen to it,” he remembers. He still appreciates the artistry of rap music even if he is unimpressed by the content. This nonjudgmental approach allows him to be effective in dealing with kids.

Maybe the most relevant experience informing Lee’s current role at the Yuinon was the time he spent working as a youth specialist at a privately run juvenile detention facility, and his subsequent employment at a foster care facility attending to neglected and abused youth.

Lee says he was not particularly fond of either job. He felt that both the juvenile detention and foster care facilities left their charges unprepared to cope when they were eventually released or aged out of foster care. “Systems are systems; if you don’t have kids in a system you are not making money,” Lee laments.

While he is not totally dismissive of the benefits of such institutions, he questions their ability to change the youth, especially since their environment remained the same. “They are going back to the same environments which is not conducive to rehabilitation.”

By changing culture, Lee and the Yuinon are helping ensure that Detroit youth have an easier time abstaining from negative decisions.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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Related Resources

  • Wayne County Children and Family Services
    The mission of Wayne County Children and Family Services is to provide quality assessment, prevention, treatment, education, detention, and enforcement services to at-risk and adjudicated juveniles and adult offenders so they can lead law-abiding and productive lives.
  • Michigan Department of Community Health
    MDCH will protect, preserve, and promote the health and safety of the people of Michigan with particular attention to providing for the needs of vulnerable and under-served populations.