Neutral Zone – A Youth Driven “Discourse” Community

Being youth-driven, we let teens have a voice on the “youth-driven spaces” blog.  I am proud to share this week’s blog with a teen I am exceptionally close with, my son Myles.  Myles was an active teen at Neutral Zone for 4+ years and is currently a freshman at Wayne State University.  This is an excerpt from a piece he wrote on “discourse communities” for his English class.  A discourse community is a group of people who share a set of basic values and assumptions, and ways of communicating about those goals.

john and myles

John and Myles Weiss, circa 2011

The things kids do outside of the classroom, including the after school activities they participate in daily, are an essential part of who they are as a person and how they grow and develop as young adults. All throughout high school and even in starting in 8th grade I attended and participated in different activities at the Neutral Zone. This “discourse community” had a major positive impact on my life. I began taking Dj and Graphic Design classes at Neutral Zone, when I was in 8th grade, and continued as an active participant all 4 years I was in high school. It was an amazing place outside of school and my home where I could express myself in many creative ways. Through music and art I could connect with all different kinds of people from all different backgrounds. NZ offerers so much more than just after school programs. It also gives teens in the County a safe place to go after school where they can meet new people, learn new skills and trades and belong to a community where they can be accepted for who they are.

myles dj

Myles, aka “DJ Distance” practicing his craft

The Neutral Zone was established and founded in 1998. Teens in Ann Arbor felt they wanted a place they could go, while not in school, to spend time with their friends and be able to socialize in a safe environment.   One of the most unique things about the Neutral Zone today is the fact that it is still teen driven and teen run. As a  “Youth Driven Space” high school teens who attend are responsible for running their own programs which is a great way for them to succeed and thrive while taking the initiative to lead themselves and their peers in a positive and successful way. While adults are still there to assist and guide them in what they are doing, the teens themselves run their own advisory, make financial decisions, figure out what programs will be offered in the space and lastly even have a say in who will be hired in their teen center. This gives teens in this discourse community an amazing opportunity to have real world experience in leading and creating their own agendas and goals for them and their fellow peers.

The Neutral Zone is one of the most open and non-exclusive places you can find. High school teens come from all over Washtenaw County to attend programs, events and musical shows hosted by the Neutral Zone. Ann Arbor is not the only place where teens come to experience all the Neutral Zone has to offer. Many teens come from Ypsilanti, Saline, Dexter and many other communities even farther away. The Neutral Zone welcomes all teen of all races and backgrounds. Discrimination is something that never occurs in this community. Diversity is a welcomed subject within the Neutral Zone. and there are multiple Neutral Zone programs related to diversity including called S.E.E.D (Students Educating Each other about Diversity).

When it comes to the type of language and environment that presents itself in the Neutral Zone I feel that everything is informal and its usually a very comfortable domain. Being that the Neutral Zone is a progressive and socially advanced place its the perfect habitat for young adults to come and express themselves in many ways. I believe because of this the Neutral Zone has to be a very open setting. Since the Neutral Zone offers different programs involving poetry and rap this gives teens an even deeper opportunity to express their feelings through the words and craft of their choice. Poetry especially is something that the Neutral Zone is actually very well known for. The poetry program is known as Volume, and it has been very successful in different poetry events nationwide.

The first time you step into the Neutral Zone you become fully aware of this creativity and expression led by the teens who are involved. There is art on every wall, progressive technology available to learn and use, various music being recorded and shared plus so much more. The Neutral Zone is well known for doing tours open to any one interested in what they do, especially up and coming young adults in the community. Throught their website and Google Maps, they give the opportunity to view the amazing space where they operate. As they state on the Visit NZ webpage, “The best way to find out about the Neutral Zone is to visit us! We are happy to show around visitors and show you what a youth driven space is all about. To schedule a visit,  please complete the form below and we will get back with you”. With public support and awareness the Neutral Zone has been broadcasted, specifically its artwork and visual art events, in many local news stories.

The Neutral Zone is a unique and amazing discourse community. By being involved with multiple music and art programs at the teen center, and also performing in various shows and concerts held there, I really feel connected to the NZ and the great things they do. I would even credit this community as something that changed my life is such a positive way. I met many people and built many relationships at the Neutral Zone. The experiences and memories I have will last me my whole lifetime and be with me forever. The way that the NZ welcomes everyone and anyone to be apart of it is something special that is rare to find elsewhere.

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