Important conversations about race and social justice have been happening at LEAP among staff members and with students. While teaching and motivating young people of color to be their best and to dream big and build agency has always been at the core of LEAP programs, we know we need to do more – for both our staff and our students. Because change happens locally, we are committed to do so with very specific actions that will be sustained and continued well beyond the concern and turmoil of the current moment.
Recently, the Obama Foundation hosted a conversation about racism and social injustice. President Obama spoke optimistically and with compassion to our young people – so-called Generation Z and our millennials – with a special focus on addressing our young people of color. As someone who came of age in another decade of protests (the 1960s) he reminded me that these protests were led by young people – people such as Dr. King (in his early 30s), Cesar Chavez (late 30s), and Gloria Steinhem (mid 30s), to name just a few. He also reminded me that the protests of the ‘60s were not as broad as those taking place today. In the past two weeks, we have witnessed how people of all ages, classes, races, and ethnicities are coming together to protest racism. This level of broad engagement should provide us with hope.
In that spirit, LEAP expresses our solidarity with Black Lives Matter and other organizations and causes, both local and national, that are fighting racism and hate by promoting social and racial justice. Furthermore, LEAP staff and Board are committed to taking meaningful action over the long run as follows:
- Through our existing middle school and high school programs we will keep the discussions on social justice and racial inequities going through the school year in both one-on-one listening sessions and facilitated group conversations. We will also create a new Social Justice and Youth Advocacy program to empower students and build agency and self-advocacy skills and drive civic action programs (or initiatives) and civil discourse.
- Coming out of these discussions, LEAP staff will plan with our students a community project that will raise awareness around issues of racism in order to promote social justice and promote systemic changes in our communities.
- LEAP staff will work with partners in Salem and Lynn to explore registering our communities as a My Brother’s Keeper Alliance community so that “every boy and young man of color in America will know that their dreams mattered as much as any other child’s.” (www.obama.org/mbka)
- LEAP will expand its curriculum for our post-secondary-bound students to build their social capital and navigational capital, including how to deal with social institutions when they become unsupportive or hostile. This program will better teach our students how to engage in important social justice conversations with skill and confidence.
- LEAP will continue to deliver training to students, staff and volunteers around diversity, equity and inclusion not as a one-time event but as a continuous conversation of listening, sharing and learning. We will present a detailed plan on this effort in the fall of 2020.
As we enter into a new election season, though, it is imperative that we constantly remind our young people that when it comes to civic engagement, protesting and voting are not an either-or proposition but a both-and proposition. Protests are important public actions that raise awareness and foster engagement, but without corresponding reforms in laws, policies, and practices, nothing will change. Effecting such change requires that the public speak out, and speak to, appointed and elected officials, and exercise their civic duty to vote. Change starts locally.
Small organizations like LEAP can only make small changes and many small changes at local levels make for real and broader change. LEAP is committed to playing its part.
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