Wake County Schools: Include transgender-based bathroom discrimination in school policy.

Check out and sign this petition being spearheaded by a YOI Freedom School Alum!

Here is the testimony from Hayden’s friend on why the petition is being organized:

My friend Hayden Riner just wanted to use the restrooms at Athens Drive High School.  This should be no big deal, right?  You need to go when you need to go.  Instead, Hayden was instructed by his teachers he could not use the men’s restrooms and instead had to use the women’s.  Why?  Because Hayden was assigned female at birth, despite the fact that many of his peers accepted him as being a man.  That’s why I am petitioning Dr. James G. Merrill, Superintendent of Wake County Public School Systems (WCPSS), and Dr. Jim Martin, Chair of WCPSS Policy Committee, to ask for a change in WCPSS policy to specifically protect transgender student’s right to use a restroom congruent with their internal identity and protect them from bullying and harassment from students and faculty. Bathrooms are supposed to be a non-issue, so long as they’re clean, but when you’re transgender, like Hayden and I are, they turn into something much more stressful.  Like a mental war zone, we’re faced with the choice of either using the restrooms congruent with our identity, and facing the possibility of violence and harassment, or using the restroom congruent with our biology, with our peers watching us and categorizing us into “male” or “female” against our best efforts for the opposite. Hayden was offered the ability to use the single stall restrooms in the library, however this frequently was halfway across the school, meaning the trip from the classroom to the bathroom and back often resulted in missing instruction from teachers.  This “solution”, although better than the women’s restroom for Hayden, was described by him as “embarrassing”.  If a policy like the one above was put in place for the WCPSS, Hayden would not have to miss as much instruction as his non-transgender students, as well give him the power for school administration to punish the students and teachers that had been harassing him when he did opt for the men’s restroom.  It’s simply a win-win.  Hayden uses the restroom he wants, and he no longer misses instruction due to long hallway strolls or anxiety caused by bullying. Sign our petition to tell Dr. James G. Merrill and Dr. Jim Martin to protect transgender students under school policy starting today. For press inquiries or comments, email us:connorjlewis98@gmail.com

Toward another powerful year!

Dear movement family,

What a year. In 2015 we trained over 200 young people in popular education, young people’s movement history, political analysis, and concrete organizing skills; mobilized over 500 young people to: demonstrations against HB318, Wake County School Board Meetings, HKonJ and the 1st ever Black Lives Matter Youth Assembly, the Environmental Justice Summit and Climate Justice Summit, the 4th Annual March to End the School-to-Prison-Pipeline, and the 1st Annual National Youth Power Convening in partnership with the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing. We decreased out of school suspensions in Wake County by 30% and we took youth delegations to Selma, New Orleans, and Jackson, MS in solidarity with local struggles.

We still have so much work to do. 
In 2016, we are launching a campaign to Get Cops Out of Schools. We will initiate community review boards made up of parents, students, and community members that can review SRO misconduct and remove officers from school. And as always, we will continue to build student and youth power that spans across the state, connecting through trainings, convenings, and our annual Freedom School.

We couldn’t have done any of this work alone. 
Our staff is a small group of 5 who do this work part time. The rest of the magic is made possible by volunteers, high school youth organizers, and community mentors and advisors. We want to say a huge thank you to all of the youth and adult allies we’ve worked with this year and we look forward to another year of partnership and organizing.

We want to work with you. 
Just respond to this email or send us a message on our website or Facebook. There’s always a lot of work; whether it’s providing transportation support the school boad meetings or providing support on the direction of our campaign, there’s a role you can play.

Thank you again for fighting with us, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm for youth liberation from systems of oppression that are present in our schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Together we are stronger and we have more faith than ever that our collective liberation is possible.

Check out some photo highlights from 2015 below.

In struggle,
On behalf of the Youth Organizing Institute



Solidarity with the Students of #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

Earlier this year a video of a school resource officer (cop) went viral. In the video, “Office Slam”, as students called him, violently grabbed and threw, Shakara, a young Black girl in the classroom as teachers and administrators stood by. A brave young woman, Niya Kenny, recorded this video and came to the defense of the student who was assaulted. Shortly after, this cop was fired but Niya and Shakara had charges brought against them for “disturbing school.” The violent cop is not facing any legal repercussions for his actions.

On December 17, the Youth Organizing Institute joined Niya Kenny, Alliance for Education Justice, Baltimore Algebra Project, and VAYLA-New Orleans in Columbia, SC to deliver over 150,000 petition signatures with SC-based organizations and Colorofchange.org demanding the charges be dropped.

See photos from the action below! 

#DropTheCharges #EndWarOnYouth #BlackGirlsMatter

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NC Climate Justice Summit

Noah, Alejandra, Camryn, Tavon, and Beatrice at the 2nd Annual NC Climate Justice Summit!

The Youth Organizing Institute is honored to be a co-sponsor of an amazing weekend summit, convening hundreds of people from across the state to discuss climate change and environmental justice.

YOI led two workshops: 1 on state violence and another on ageism and intergenerational organizing.

Get Cops Out of Our Schools Winter Fund Drive

cops-out-of-schools2015yoiFROM SPRING VALLEY TO WAKE COUNTY,

Cops are out of control in our neighborhoods and in our classrooms. Young people everyday face schools that are becoming more and more prison-like; from metal detectors to armed guards, searches and out of school suspensions, young people are under attack.

In particular, youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and disabled youth face racist, homophobic, and ableist school disciplinary policies that make it impossible to learn.

In 2015, the Youth Organizing Institute:

  • Trained over 200 young people in popular education, young people’s movement history, political analysis, and concrete organizing skills
  • Mobilized over 500 young people to:
    • demonstrations against HB318
    • Wake County School Board Meetings
    • HKonJ and the 1st ever Black Lives Matter Youth Assembly
    • the Environmental Justice Summit and Climate Justice Summit
    • 4th Annual March to End the School-to-Prison-Pipeline
    • 1st Annual National Youth Power Convening in partnership with the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing
  • Decreased out-of-school suspensions by 30%
  • Took youth delegations to Selma, New Orleans, and Jackson, MS in solidarity with local struggles

We still have a lot of work to do.

In 2016, the Youth Organizing Institute will work to:

  • Build statewide student and youth power
  • Initiate community review boards made up of parents, students, and community members that can review SRO misconduct and remove officers from schools 

Will you fight with us? Whether it’s $20 or $100, we need your support for transformative youth organizing in 2016.

Everyone who makes a contribution is welcome to join us at our 3rd Annual Ella Baker Gala (Dec. 12 in Raleigh, NC). Contributions of $50 or more can go toward a solidarity message or ad to be included in our solidarity ad display during the Gala. If you can’t make it to the Gala, your contribution will go toward covering the entry cost for a young person. Better yet, you can donate $100 and sponsor a whole table (8 seats) for youth and/or your organization.

Questions? Email Loan at loan@empoweryouthnc.org
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Save the date! 3rd Annual Ella Baker Gala

Our Annual Ella Baker Gala is an opportunity to celebrate youth organizers, adult allies, and everyone in our community that makes youth organizing possible. Keep an eye out for our Facebook event page and end of year fundraising appeal.

solidarity-messages-yoiYour contribution of a solidarity message or advertisement in our Solidarity Ad Display will help to support YOI’s year-round work to support the next generation of social change leaders.

Please send your solidarity message, graphic or ad to Loan Tran at Loan@empoweryouthnc.org by Saturday, December 5.

Text Only Solidarity Message – $50 (No longer than 150 characters)
Message (as long as you like) + Logo + Ad Space — $100

The gala will take place at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church on Saturday, December 12, 7-9pm.


– They can be any image file type or Adobe PDF
– As large of a file size/image resolution as possible
– Color or black and white images are acceptable

sponsor-a-table-eb-galaSponsoring a table will help to support YOI’s year-round work to support the next generation of social change leaders.

$100 per table (8 seats for your organization and/or to cover the entry cost for a young person)

Door Contributions are sliding scale $1 – $100. RSVP at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1007157786009263/

In Response to South Carolina: Will a Wake Student be Next?

Early this week, a video surfaced of a young black student being assaulted by School Resource Officer (SRO) Ben Fields in Columbia, South Carolina. The video clearly showed that SROs and law enforcement should not handle routine school discipline issues. The young woman was hurled to the ground and dragged violently by the officer in front of her peers, causing physical and psychological harm to the victim and witnesses.

Similar to Officer Ben Fields, many school resource officers in Wake County Public Schools System (WCPSS) are not trained in child or adolescent development, therefore ill-equipped to effectively handle youth discipline matters.

WCPSS officers also have a history of excessive force toward black students. In 2013, six Enloe High School students were arrested after a water balloon fight, one of the students suffering a concussion at the hands of an officer. Wake SROs have the power to override the recommendations of principals. In 2014, a student at Southeast High School was jailed for 21 days after a school bus fight even though the principal wanted to levy an out-of-school suspension. In Wake County, officers are allowed to make the final decision, going over the heads of professionals with years of training in education and child development. In a state like North Carolina, where 16 and 17-year-olds can be prosecuted as adults and sent to adult prison for any kind of offense, this gives them the power to do permanent and long-term harm to a child’s future.

Why does Wake County allow SROs more decision-making power over students lives in the classrooms than parents, counselors, teachers, and principals? Who will protect students from over-reactions and violence from SROs who abuse their position of power?

Studies across the country and in Wake County show that school-based referrals into the criminal justice system are disproportionately youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and youth with disabilities. SROs are supposed to keep students safe, but each year we hear more troubling incidents that call into question their very presence, of incidents where they are the instigators of violence, which is why we call for counselors, not cops.

The NC Coalition for Education Justice joins Dignity in Schools Campaign to call on Spring Valley High School and districts across the country to use positive interventions instead of suspensions, expulsions or arrests and to shift funding from school police to counselors and positive data-driven discipline interventions. The DSC Model Code on Education and Dignity provides these and other alternatives that promote positive school climates.
We don’t want the students and families of WCPSS to be the next victims so we demand:
-removal of all school resource officers in Wake County who are not trained in child and adolescent development,
-training for students, teachers and administration in implicit bias and positive interventions such as restorative/transformative justice,
-a parent and student-led review board to oversee the academic and discipline related treatment of students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.

School resource officers are only one part of the larger issue of school push-out. North Carolina ranks 8th in suspension rates in the country. The state spends $8,160 annually on education per student but $159,750 on incarcerated youth. North Carolina is also the only state arresting 16 and 17 year olds and charging them as adults for both misdemeanors and felony charges. All of these factors contribute to the school-to-prison-pipeline.

This Saturday, October 31st, students, parents, and community organizers will lead the 4th annual march to end the school-to-prison pipeline, beginning at Washington GT Elementary School and ending at Central Prison. This march brings attention to the policies and actions that push students out of classrooms into prisons. There will be youth and parent speakers, a noise demo outside of Central Prison, and vibrant rallies with chants, songs, and drums.

Upcoming events!

LGBTQ Teen Focus Group
Wednesday, November 3 | 3:30pm-6:30pm. Free pizza.
The LGBTQ Center of Durham is looking for Durham teens (high school aged) willing to answer some of their questions and chill with some pizza. So come out and let yourself be heard, socialize and make new friends + FREE PIZZA! And if you can’t make it that’s cool, go ahead and invite any friend you feel may be interested.

If you would like to attend, please fill out this RSVP form!

Circle Process Training: Everyday Transformative Justice
Thursday, November 5 | 6pm-8pm. Dinner provided.
Join the Youth Organizing Institute to learn how to faciliate peace circles both as an everyday practice of transformative justice and as a non-punitive method for addressing conflict and harm!

We demand justice

Dear movement family,

Yesterday a video of a young Black student in South Carolina went viral. She was assaulted by a school resource officer (cop) in the classroom for refusing to leave. Many of us watched the short footage taken by her classmates with heartwrenching pain. We know that this is the reality for young people across the country everyday. We have been carrying out a long battle against the school-to-prison-pipeline, with many opponents still arguing that school pushout does not exist. In the past 5 years we have connected with youth of color all across the state of North Carolina who witness and experience first hand the violence of racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and other injustices in their classrooms.

One of the things that we‘ve learned is that not only do schools absorb the hostile and oppressive environments surrounding it, they play an active role in creating the hostile environments that young people are in each day. Schools are not safe for Black and Brown youth. Neighborhoods are not safe for Black and Brown youth. Workplaces are not safe for Black and Brown youth.

There is a fight in North Carolina and across the country to be had. From HB318 and the recent anti-immigrant attacks to racism and islamophobia in our neighborhoods and schools, there are some important gatherings this week in the Triangle area. Come out and fight.
In struggle,
Youth Organizing Institute

@ 3PM
Stop H.B. 318, Stop the Hate /Alto H.B. 318, Alto al Odio
Governor’s Mansion
200 N Blount St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Solidarity with Palestine! March & Rally in Durham
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St., Durham, NC 27701

4th Annual March to End the School-to-Prison-Pipeline
Start: Washington GT Elementary School
1000 Fayetteville St, Raleigh, NC 27601