This morning, I helped host a workshop at a high school that I support in the Chicago Public Schools. At this workshop, the students shared how they had advocated for and formed two new student organizations at this school, a black student union and a gay-straight alliance. The students shared how they saw the need for these organizations and how they empowered themselves to go about creating them with the help of supportive adults. One young woman testified about how these organizations have supported her to become a student activist speaking up about climate change, racial justice, and a host of other issues. The visiting participants, teachers and administrators from other schools loved hearing the perspective, passion, and brilliance of these students.
This afternoon, with this workshop on my mind, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw pictures of a student protest at the Village Hall in Oak Park. Students of color were leading this action against the use of village funds to remodel the existing police station or construct a new police station. Instead, the students are advocating that those funds be used to support the youth of Oak Park, especially youth of color. These students are also advocating that the assignment of police officers to Oak Park schools be discontinued, as the presence of those officers represents and helps perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.
Sometimes it can be easy for me at is a 43-year-old straight white man to get discouraged about the work of justice, just how long it takes, and wondering whether we can ever truly create a just society. Seeing the advocacy of these young people reminds me that people of color have been working for justice in this country since it was founded and even before. This encourages me to take the long view of where we have been and where we need to go. Seeing the brilliance of these young people of color reminds me that we need to center that brilliance in our schools and classrooms, and affirms for me that education is about bringing out the assets that these young people already possess.
And witnessing the brilliance of these young people today, in Chicago and Oak Park, cultivates in me a sense of courage for the work ahead. If we follow these young people of color and their young white allies, we have a lot to learn, a lot of work to do, and a lot of beautiful struggle ahead.
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