YOI 2011: Finding our voice and using it!
It has been an incredible summer! Our ears are still ringing with movement songs, our minds are buzzing with new knowledge and questions, our hearts are thumping with the belief that we have the power to change the world. This summer, we had the opportunity to connect with new and old friends, and to meet incredible leaders from organizations like Southerners on New Ground, the Advancement Project, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, among many others.
We traveled to Durham and found that youth in public schools are dealing with issues similar to the ones we face in Wake County. We felt the Civil Rights movement come alive in Greensboro, as we visited the lunch counter where students sat down and changed history. In Raleigh and beyond, we discussed and analyzed the current situation of our schools, and dreamed and visioned for a school system that uplifts and educates every single student regardless of their background. We spoke with lawyers from Advocates for Children’s Services about discipline in schools and our rights as students. We learned about the history of youth in movements in the US, and how we are their living legacy.
At the heart of the Youth Organizing Institute is the belief that students are experts on our own lives. The Institute is a space of learning, questioning, connecting, and exploring. As youth organizers, we are actively engaged in the process of acknowledging our experiences as valid and important, finding our voices, and then using them! We are leaders, we are visionaries, and we are change-makers. In the words of Hopi elders, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Spotlight on the Students
“This summer I learned about human rights and how to advocate for ourselves and others. I especially liked going to Durham, meeting with SpiritHouse, and talking about the School to Prison Pipeline.” — J’Mario Carter (pictured left)
“I enjoyed my experience at the organizing institute. I learned so much about the history of organizing and the civil rights movement. I had the opportunity to travel to Greensboro and Durham and learn about the movements there. It’s amazing to see people in different parts of the state working towards the same goal. I hope to apply some of the strategies that I learned in several workshops in other endeavors, such as working with NC HEAT.” — Lexi Antoncich (pictured right)
Program Highlight: Advancement Project Meeting
On July 28, 2011, the YOI Summer Youth Participants gathered with young people from Durham-based SpiritHouse’s Choosing Sides program to discuss the impacts of high stakes testing with Caitlin Swain and Jasmine Harris from the DC-based Advancement Project.
The Advancement Project is a civil rights organization that aims to inspire and strengthen movements that expand opportunity for all by partnering with community organizations and providing legal advocacy and strategic communications tools to reframe public discourse around and dismantle structural exclusion.
This summer the Advancement Project conducted a series of community meeting with parents, teachers, and students in order to create a report that will include data and anecdotes that highlight the consequences of reliance upon high stakes testing in public schools and present alternatives for North Carolina to consider as it reimagines its accountability measures.
On a Thursday afternoon, the students from Wake and Durham Counties gathered. Although those in attendance haled from eight different area high schools, they found many of their individual experiences were similar and they echoed each others’ frustrations when they spoke of their challenges with high stakes tests.
The group agreed that high stakes testing creates a learning environment that is hostile to children and students and narrows learning opportunities. The Youth Organizing Institute hopes to continue to engage in education around the impact of high stakes testing, particularly in how it contributes to the school to prison pipeline and other policies that push out students and keep them from reaching theirfull potential.
What’s up next and ways to support
The new school year is beginning and the students from the YOI 2011 are busy making plans to put all the lessons of this summer into practice.
Last summer, Wake County high school students that participated in the YOI formed their own organization, NC HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens), which has become a prominent force in the struggle for more just and equitable schools. They have held community meetings, organized their peers, spoken out at school board meetings, participated in rallies and demonstrations, and initiated a broad boycott campaign targetting the funding and ideological motor behind the Resegregationist 5–Art Pope. We’ll continue to send out announcements about upcoming events through this newsletter.
Another important way you can support youth-organizing in the Triangle is to make a tax-deductible donation that goes directly to organizing costs. You can click here to make a donation online or mail a check to our office, located at 331 West Main St, Suite 408, Durham, NC 27701.
We’d like to thank all of the different community organizations and individuals who have supported us in a variety of different ways during this summer and throughout the past year. We look forward to this upcoming year of struggle and seeing all of you in action!
There are so many people and organizations without whom the YOI 2011would not have been possible. We’d like to take a moment to thank some of the different folks whose skills, expertise, resources, and guidance helped make it all happen.
Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
The Southern Partners Fund
YWCA of the Greater Triangle
The Beloved Community Center
Advocates for Children’s Services
The Advancement Project
Southerners On New Ground (SONG)
S.W.A.R.M. (Goldsboro, NC)
NC DREAM Team
Faith Holsaert, co-author of Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Rebecca Fontaine, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Peter Gilbert, UNC Center for Civil Rights