Petworth resident teaches non-violent approaches to neighborhood teens through the Civil Rights Cafe 

by Yuliya Panfil

For more than a decade, Petworth resident Louis Henderson has helped DC youth learn about the civil rights movement, non-violent resistance, and self-expression through a program called Civil Rights Cafe. Now, Henderson has decided to expand the program to his home neighborhood in hopes of inspiring more teens to apply the non-violent teachings of the Civil Rights movement to their everyday lives. 

Civil Rights Cafe targets youth between the ages of 13 and 18, and consists of a mix of café-style conversations, mentorship, educational events and workshops, all with the goal of encouraging free expression in a “safe space” environment. Teens write down their thoughts on topics covered in weekly discussions, and share their views on events that affect their everyday lives. Civil Rights Cafe will partner with various entities in the Petworth area, including the Petworth Public Library, area schools, and recreation centers, to host workshops and other educational opportunities for youth.

“The program can fit into various youth development principles,” says Henderson, who has spent the last 20 years working on juvenile justice, foster care, and crossover youth issues. “It’s a sense of belonging, self-worth, identity and social and community involvement.”

Last month, Henderson’s students published an anthology of creations, titled “Freedom to Read, Write, and Speak.” 

Henderson says he started Civil Rights Cafe not only to provide a positive outlet for youth, but also to teach teens about the diversity of the Civil Rights movement - something Henderson feels is lost in traditional teaching.

“Kids mistake black history for the civil rights movement, but its more than that,” Henderson says.

He cites as an example the revelation of black Civil Rights Cafe participants learning about the racial diversity of actors who fought for the rights of African Americans during the civil rights movement.

“Black kids were fascinated by learning about individuals who were not black, but who were willing to sacrifice for the sake of humanity,” he said. “It broadened their view of what it means to take up a cause and say, ‘I’m going to fight this cause because it’s not right.’”

For more information on how you can get involved, visit the Civil Rights Cafe website or call (202) 491-1010.