18 Jun Youth Will Drive the Change
BY: JAI PHILLIPS, PROGRAM OFFICER, YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
In recent weeks we have witnessed youth across the nation, and even around the globe, take to the streets in protest of the brutal killings of Black men and women and the systemic racism that has persisted for generations.
We know from history that in moments of great upheaval and discord, youth have been at the center of re-imaging and enacting greater societal change and reform.
FROM PROTESTS TO POLICY-CHANGE
John Lewis, the 80-year-old U.S. Representative and civil rights leader, is an inspiring example of the long-term systematic change youth activism can establish. John stepped into the civil rights movement at age 19, joining the Freedom Fighters in 1965 to cross that now famous bridge in Selma, Alabama. The peaceful protesters were met with tear gas and police violence. Undeterred, Lewis committed himself to community organizing and voter mobilization. For nearly 40 years, Lewis has been an elected official and a vocal leader in the ongoing struggle to effect deeper lasting policy transformation around human rights and racial reconciliation. Since entering office, Lewis has called for healthcare reform, measures to fight poverty and improvements in education.
DEVELOPING YOUNG LEADERS TO EMPOWER THEIR COMMUNITIES
The Ready to Rise initiative is cultivating the next generation of leaders and training them to harness their leadership, strength, and passion to create the change their communities want to see; whether it be human rights, social justice or environmental issues. Teaching them community organizing techniques provides youth with critical thinking, social and emotional skills—building agency and self-efficacy—boosting confidence and developing leadership skills.
Many of our cohort organizations are already engaging youth in movement building; providing them with the skills/tools to effectively engage in the political process, while encouraging them to mobilize their communities for change. Here are a few empowering examples:
California Youth Connection (CYC): Local policy engagement has always been at the heart of CYC’s work—from statewide policy and advocacy to organizing in counties. Each local chapter determines their leadership, facilitates meetings and works within their own communities to identify challenges. They then meet with their local policymakers and leaders to propose policy solutions.
Communities for a Better Environment (CBE): This environmental justice organization provides residents in heavily polluted urban communities with organizing skills, leadership training and legal, scientific and technical assistance, so that they can successfully confront threats to their health and well-being.
Recent Action: After a Delta Air Carrier dumped jet fuel as an emergency procedure over schools and communities in South East Los Angeles, CBE organized in-person and virtually to inform residents about health concerns around jet fuel exposure and their rights.
Community Coalition (CoCo): This organization brings together community members to build leadership, launch action campaigns and create a unified voice for South L.A. to transform schools, strengthen families and build a thriving community.
Recent Action: Due to CoCo’s voter engagement efforts, South L.A. neighborhoods vote at nearly twice the rate of the county average. They contacted more than 22,000 voters for the March 2020 Super Tuesday Elections.
TRUE VISION SEES NOT WHAT YOU ARE, BUT WHAT YOU CAN BE
CCF and our partnership between L.A. County Probation, Liberty Hill Foundation seek to bring about a society in which young people are developed and supported to become leaders and decision-makers in their own lives and communities to ensure that the systems and institutions that serve them and their families are held accountable. Youth are one of the largest, fastest growing and increasingly diverse populations in the U.S. Given the current disinvestment in quality public education and strong community infrastructures, and the parallel increase in poverty, unemployment and incarceration, the vision of Ready to Rise is even more urgent.