One Common Unity breaks cycles of violence and builds compassionate, healthy communities through the transformative power of music, arts, and peace education.


Artistic Empowerment

Artistic Empowerment has long been a fundamental tenant of youth development at OCU. We believe encouraging artistic expression goes hand in hand with encouraging young people to learn about themselves and the world around them, and to become effective leaders and community organizers. Engaging youth in artistic activities, either through physical involvement or observation, can positively impact their psychological state and physiological parameters.[1] For instance, research has shown that music can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety levels, restore emotional balance, and even help control pain.[2][3]  Similar studies have indicated that “teenagers and young adults of low socioeconomic status (SES) who have a history of in-depth arts involvement show better academic outcomes than do low-SES youth who have less arts involvement.”[4] College enrollment and grade point averages are positively affected by those that are more involved in the arts.[5] Additionally, multiple studies have concluded that curricular and extracurricular art studies and activities help keep high-risk dropout students stay in school.[6]

Community Engagement

Community Engagement is an essential piece to the Fly By Light program. OCU incorporates many of the issues students have discussed throughout the year and aids the student in cultivating their own passions in regards to potential social movements they would like to be a part of and work on. By introducing intensive arts programs in high schools, students are more likely to show “interest in current affairs, as evidenced by comparatively high levels of volunteering, voting, and engagement with local or school politics” than those who do not get such experiences.[7] Students explore their personal experiences with social justice, and make commitments about how they can positively change their communities through their actions.

Health and Wellness

Health and Wellness acknowledges that taking care of oneself is essential if one is to maintain a full and balanced lifestyle, have healthy relationships, and contribute time and energy to his/her community. While less than half a percent of American children are in foster care, just under 8% of D.C. children are clients of D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.[8] A recent survey of 1,396 D.C. students showed that 12.5% of 12th graders reported having attempted suicide, almost double the national average of 6.3%.[9] A lack of self-esteem and joy in life can add to a lack of compassion and care towards others. Washington, D.C. crime statistics for 2010 showed that juvenile arrests for violent crimes are nearly 6 times the national average and youth victims of homicide rose by 23% from 2009 to 2010.[10]

Furthermore, individual health and wellness (both physical and mental) plays an important role within the greater scope of maintaining healthy communities, global societies, and natural environments. In D.C. youth are four times more likely to die by homicide than by the next closest cause, the direct opposite of national statistics where the leading causes of death in children are unintentional incidents.[11]

In response to this clear need, OCU is developing high impact programming for youth that provides clear alternatives to violence, increases the self-esteem of participants and helps them to lead mentally stable and emotionally balanced lives. Our work with youth in Washington, D.C. recognizes that vulnerable young people need safe and healthy outlets for emotional expression in the midst of a pervasive culture of violence; part of how we do this is taking them on monthly excursions into National Parks.

Social-Emotional Literacy

Social-Emotional Literacy involves the ability to recognize your emotions, to understand why you are feeling a particular way, and what triggered that response. The skill and empathy to understand those same emotional reactions in other people, allows teenagers and young adults alike to better empathize with their community.  More and more research has shown that social-emotional learning skills (self-management, social-awareness, dealing with trauma, conflict resolution, relationship skills and responsible decision-making) are critical when addressing the long-term goals of academic success and work-place preparedness.[12] Curricula utilizing social-emotional techniques have shown significant and quantitative benefits in schools, with students better able to concentrate, communicate, report increased levels of happiness, and resolve conflict.[13] Young people with these skills will become better community members, professionals, and leaders.

Environmental Stewardship

Environmental Stewardship stresses the responsibility we all have towards the environment. Students are presented with a new perspective on heavily used resources that are too often taken for granted.  The environment plays a crucial role in relationships on both community and global scales, and students are given the opportunity to explore the human-environment dynamic. Children have diminishing opportunities to learn and play in natural settings which are particularly critical to “developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.”[14]

Through a school-wide approach and back to nature lens, OCU works to address the personal development challenges that D.C. students often face. By seeking the root causes of low self-esteem and peer violence, we build a foundation for success.

[1] Staricoff R, Loppert S. Integrating the arts into health care: Can we affect clinical outcomes? In: Kirklin D, Richardson R eds. The Healing Environment Without and Within. London, England: Royal College of Physicians; 2003:63–80.
[2] Stuckey, Heather L., and Jeremy Nobel. “The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature.” American Journal of Public Health 100, no. 2 (2010): 254.
[3]  Melzack R, Weisz LZ, Sprague AT. Stratagems for controlling pain: contributions of auditory stimulation and suggestion. Exp Neurol. 1963;8(3):237–247.
[4] Catterall, James S. “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies. Research Report# 55.” National Endowment for the Arts (2012).
[5] Catterall, James S. “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies. Research Report# 55.” National Endowment for the Arts (2012).  pg 12.
[6] 17 The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in America’s Schools,” National Association of State Boards of Education. 2010. Pg 8
[7] Catterall, James S. “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies. Research Report# 55.” National Endowment for the Arts (2012).pg 12.
[8] Child Welfare Information Gateway, Foster Care Statistics 2012 Child and Family Services Agency, Child Stats September 2013  Child Stats: Forum on Family and Child Statistics, Child population: Number of children (in millions) ages 0–17 in the United States by age, 1950–2012 and projected 2013–2050, US Census Bureau, State & County QuickFacts, District of Columbia,
[9] Henderson, Kaya. “DC Public Schools students survey reveals high rates of sex, fear and suicide attempts,” Huffington Post. 2011. Web.
[10] Easy Access to FBI Statistics:1994-2010,, Metropolitan Police Department 2010 Annual Report, pages 21, 27.
[11] Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Violence: State Statistics, District of Columbia. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Prevention & Control: Data & Statistics, Causes of Death by Age Group, 2010-2008
[12] Weissberg, Roger P., & Cascarino, Jason (2013). “Academic Learning + Social-Emotional Learning = National Priority.” Phi Delta Kappan. October 2013, Vol. 95 Issue 2, p8-13.
[13] ” Educational Effectiveness of an Intervention Programme for Social-Emotional Learning.” International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches. December 2013. “Coordinating Social-Emotional and Character Development (SECD) Initiatives Improves School Climate and Student Learning.” Middle School Journal. September 2010.
[14] Kellert, Stephen. “Nature and Childhood Development.” Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005.