Building Urban Youth Power

By Hunter King

Around the country, urban youth of color face big challenges – access to education and jobs, substance abuse, violence and an angry wave of white nationalism that is making attacks all too common. In early July, youth from CJJC’s Education 4 Liberation Summer program (E4LS) met up with youth from 14+ Bay Area organizations to build skills, power, and relationships with others. Other participating organizations included the Chinese Progressive AssociationArab Resource & Organizing Center and the Young Women’s Freedom Center.

The convening, organized by BAY-Peace, focused on relationship building and youth learning how their peers are fighting back and supporting each other against the challenges they, their families and communities face.

Youth from All of Us or None explaining how they are organizing against incarceration in their communities. Photo by Causa Justa

“There’s an urgency to this space because our communities are facing structural violence,” said facilitator Leilani Salvador-Jones of BAY-Peace “we have a lot of shared experiences.” The extent to which violence was one of those experiences was all too clear, as the majority of youth stepped forward to answer affirmatively to questions like “I have experienced violence within my family” and “I have lost a loved one to violence.”

Youth connected this violence back to the oppression faced by people of color due to white supremacy, capitalism, war and policing. They shared experiences and built skills for navigating the impact of these systems on their mental health and relationships.

Healing altar with herbs and essential oils and space for youth to put items of significance. Photo by Causa Justa

They challenged dominant narratives that try to determine their options in life and through a Flip[ing] the Script exercise. “I am not weak because I am a woman. I am strong and proud,” said E4LS youth Ashley, before working on an exercise designing a social media campaign to highlight the struggles of undocumented workers in the U.S.

One of the most powerful workshops was led by People’s Community Medics that empowered youth to defend themselves during school shootings and taught them how to treat gunshots, stabbings, and seizures while waiting for help.

All the workshops had been built around topics chosen by the youth. They practiced skills to not only build resiliency and protect themselves but to assert the power of their voices through Youth Powered Legislation against youth criminalization.

 Youth pushed their leadership to the next level while uplifting their individual and shared struggles and forming the relationship building blocks for a youth-led movement for change in their communities.