UNITY Origin and Development
UNITY’s mission it to, “foster the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth, and to help build a strong, unified and self-reliant Native America through involvement of its youth.” In keeping with its mission, UNITY has served the leadership needs of American Indian and Alaska Native youth for 40 years. UNITY is a national organization with over 160 youth councils operating in 36 states and Canada. These youth councils represent thousands of Native American youth.
UNITY began through the efforts of J.R. Cook, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, who has worked with Native youth in leadership development for more than three decades. The organization grew from a small group of interested Indian youth in southwestern Oklahoma in 1976 to a national organization today with affiliated youth councils operating in 35 states and Canada.
UNITY evolved from a series of Indian programs that Cook directed. After a successful basketball coaching stint, Cook devoted a decade of his life to the Upward Bound project at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Oklahoma. At that time, it seemed to Cook there was more pressure for Indian youth to fail than to succeed.He became aware of the tremendous waste of talent and negative peer pressure among native youth and saw a need for an organization to help Native youth use their talents in a positive way. Cook began working with the Weatherford community to purchase and renovate a building that housed the Southwest Indian Cultural Center. Through the center, a dropout prevention and cultural retention education grant was received to work with students in 10 public schools in western Oklahoma.
The project was so successful — especially in regard to a marked increase in self-esteem among participants — that youth in the project authorized Cook to take the necessary steps to expand these efforts to regional and national levels. On April 16, 1976, United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the state of Oklahoma to develop leadership among native American youth. UNITY relocated its headquarters in 1978 to Oklahoma City.
One of the first milestones for UNITY youth came at the 1980 National UNITY Conference in Great Falls, Mont. Youth shaped their future by writing a “Declaration for Independence” to take charge of their destiny. Youth pledged to be involved in the governmental decision-making process and promote economic development. The “Declaration” gained national attention in Paul Harvey’s daily commentary.
Today, Native American youth across the country are taking charge of their lives by serving others. They are helping their reservations, villages and communities by establishing tutoring programs, dance troupes, clean up days, healthy lifestyles campaigns, to name a few. Native American youth are making a difference in the areas of community service, heritage, healthy lifestyles and environment.
UNITY’s address is: 953 E. Juanita Ave., Ste C | Mesa, AZ 85204.