Youth Fellows October Meet-Up
On Saturday, October 15, the Fellows and mentors of the Desmond Tutu Center Youth Fellows Initiative came together at Christian Theological Seminary for our second monthly meetup of the school year. With the leaves on the trees outside rapidly changing color, it’s clear the time has come to begin working on the beginning stages of the Youth Fellows’ social justice initiatives. Hence, the theme of our meeting: what is a social justice project?
To guide the Fellows in answering that question for themselves, Clare Wildhack-Nolan, a mentor in the Youth Fellows Initiative and the Youth Development Facilitator at the Peace Learning Center, led a collaborative group session in which the Fellows explored the characteristics of effective and socially equitable social justice work.
After one of our Fellows, Ghemaiya Bradley, led an ice breaker for Fellows and mentors, the Fellows were invited to set the agenda for the meet-up themselves. Paige served as the scribe during this brainstorming session, in which the Fellows deliberated on what they hoped to gain from the meet-up. Meanwhile, Kobe worked as a timekeeper during our meet-up, to make sure we stuck to a schedule.
As the Fellows discussed their hopes for the meet-up, a few themes emerged. Many of the Fellows felt the need to develop more defined social justice objectives. Izabella Spriggs suggested Fellows and mentors make a common pool of resources for networking purposes. Some Fellows simply wanted more guidance in how to choose between their many project ideas, hoping that whatever option they chose would be the most beneficial to the community or communities they wished to help.
Gaining a greater understanding of the nature of social justice, and of the traits of an effective social justice project, is one essential path toward creating truly impactful programs. Thus, our group moved from brainstorming agenda items toward brainstorming the characteristics of a good social justice project. This time, Sierra Nucklos acted as our scribe, writing down the group’s ideas for our consideration.
The Fellows’ feedback centered around three themes. First, a social justice project should interrogate and address the root causes of an injustice. By addressing the causes rather than the effects of a social injustice, the Fellows’ activism can create lasting change. Second, activists need to be intentional in how they include the community in the development and implementation of their project. After all, it’s on the behalf of their communities that the Desmond Tutu Center Youth Fellows have decided to work. Finally, an effective social justice project is built on robust research into the problem it is addressing. Only through a deep understanding of the problem, as well as of the institutions and power dynamics of the players involved, can we develop truly effective initiatives.
Following this discussion, the group broke into pairs or groups of three to discuss their specific social justice initiatives, and to deliberate on the necessary next steps. First, though, Sierra shared her mission statement from her own initiative, the Community Food Box Project, as an example of a refined project vision for us all to keep in mind as we discussed the Fellows’ ideas. Some Fellows took some time on their own to research other social justice projects for inspiration. Mentors participated in the conversations as sounding boards and resources. Clare contributed worksheets and booklets to help Fellows conceptualize their projects.
Finally, we reconvened to conclude our meet-up. Clare invited the Youth Fellows to share their project ideas with the group, as well as their next steps. It was remarkable how such a short time of reflection and discussion helped the Fellows to refine their ideas. The enthusiasm and sense of community, encouraged by the collaborative structure of the meet-up, was palpable. When asked to summarize the meet-up in one word, Youth Fellows and mentors responded with: “Energizing.” “Exhilarating.” “Powerful.” “Guiding.” and “Helpful.”
– by Olivia Pratt, Youth Fellows Assistant