Empowered Through Tragedy
— Michelle Suazo
Executive Director, The Food Project of UEmpower of Maryland
The Food Project has been working hard during the pandemic to hire at-risk youth from the streets to feed the vulnerable in their community. We had been rotating through 18 youth, helping to provide jobs and workforce training.
After three years in a safe space in the center of this violent neighborhood, we always knew we could lose one of our kids to violence. In August of 2021, Troy Rush Jr., a founding youth, was murdered just blocks away from our kitchen. This tragedy made us stop and reflect on whether we were fighting an uphill battle that could never be won.
The week after Troy’s death, the unexpected happened when we had 20+ more youth come off the streets from three drug corners asking for jobs at The Food Project. We were overwhelmed by the flood of requests and felt obligated—if we could not hire them all, we must help find them work to keep them safe.
With the help of The Good People Fund, The Orioles and local businesses, we were able to funnel and provide transportation for 12 youth to full-time jobs with benefits. The rest of the youth we rotate through The Food Project until they can seek employment elsewhere.
It was unforeseen that we would lose our brother, nephew and friend, Troy, and yet unexpected that this tragedy could have saved many lives off the streets. (R.I.P. Troy J. Rush Jr. 2002-2021)