Things are growing increasingly exciting here at Youth United for Change. We are beginning to hit our stride after a period of soul-searching involving a thorough examination of our leadership development practices and organizing priorities/campaigns as well as an internal restructuring at both the staff and board levels. The shared vision for YUC that has emerged from numerous conversations between all organizational stakeholders is transformative and expansive in scope. We have recommitted to not only securing policy and material changes within the education system, but to ensuring the young people who come to us looking to affect change in their schools and communities leave with concrete and translatable skills, and an insatiable desire for justice.
Our organization is primarily tasked with developing the leadership of young people of color from working class neighborhoods here in Philadelphia. The only way we are able to keep them in the fold is by presenting a vision of societal transformation that is broad and all-encompassing; a vision that not only has them fighting to change their educational spaces, but for their lives and those around them. This means choosing campaigns that percolate from their lived experiences; that start with the particularities of what they see in their classrooms and on their blocks, and ties that to formal and informal structures in place that need to reformed or removed in order to make way for dignified living. Starting in March, we are launching three campaigns that we believe address the concerns of our members but have the capacity to stir members of their communities to move with them, regardless of age. In essence, as we start in the right place with our members, unearthing and analyzing shared experiences, inevitably our work will spur intergenerational support.
Here are brief summations of the campaigns going public this month:
Whole School Reform: Establishing Community Schools & Community Control
Re-envisioning how schools develop students, as well as partner with surrounding neighborhood organizations to meet the needs of residents, has been a mainstay of YUC’s two decades of youth organizing work. Schools ideally would operate as “community hubs,” where neighborhood families come together for events and meetings, and young people are socialized by both peers and adult staff around power, authority, and opportunity in a manner that mimics life outside class. Because of this understanding, YUC will joining in the citywide effort to push the District to transform 25 schools, including the Kensington Multiplex, into community schools; and will fight to see true governing power bestowed to parents, students, and teachers in the form of school community councils.
School Climate: Increasing Number of School Counselors
Without counselors in school buildings, supportive school climate is sure to degrade over time, leaving teachers with the added responsibility of addressing problematic responses to traumatic experiences and bullying while sticking to daily course curriculum. It also means many students will not be given the proper guidance concerning post-secondary education, leaving many without the support needed to even consider college. Therefore, fighting to ensure District schools have the appropriate number of counselors is imperative if all Philadelphia students are to truly have access to quality education; appropriate socialization and the development of emotional intelligence are often overlooked as key components of quality education, but are integral to the advancement of a more inclusive citizenry. Our Pushout Chapter will be leading the effort to ensuring the appropriate number of school staff in all District public schools.
Health/Food Justice: Expanding Water Access in Schools
Water is an essential ingredient of life. Unfortunately, due to political wrangling and cynicism in Harrisburg, some students in Philadelphia are attending schools without adequate water infrastructure. Last year, youth members began telling us stories of having to purchase water after gym class because there was no potable water in their building. As we began exploring the issue, little did we know that the issue of water access and quality would grow national in scope. YUC has joined citywide efforts here to tackle the issue of water access ,and will be focusing on holding local and state government accountable concerning this issue, with members currently gearing up to campaign for a transparent and public water infrastructure assessment for all Philadelphia District schools.
Each day we open up our building, we open ourselves up to new possibilities. Though YUC is relatively small, it is helping shape a historical moment that is changing the way we think of ourselves and how society should work. Our members remind us daily that we are the leaders we have been waiting for; that our experiences are rich and full of dynamic insights about how things can and should be different.The collective sharing of those insights begins the process that eventually leads to collective action that not only allows us to step into power, but reconfigures our understanding of what it means to be human. We at YUC aren’t just working for educational reform; we are also training those who will be the architects we need for a more just world.
Youth United for Change
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