Read Part 1 of Sam’s Blog, “Why I Love My Work”
What exactly is so special about Activate Youth Justice Trainings that so many of its alums claim to have gone through such an intense and life-changing experience? The simplest explanation for what happens during Activate! is to break it down to these 5 main concepts: Education, Engagement, Growth, Community & Transformation.
Education and Engagement: We use interactive, participatory and fun activities to start learning more about the issues as a group. Meanwhile, we engage groups in activism and hands-on justice work that is happening in the area while we are there. As such, programming evolves and shifts with each passing year as different justice issues emerge and grow. Our programs maintain a certain level of flexibility so that we can respond immediately to current events, and each program is uniquely tailored to focus on an issue that is especially relevant in that region of the country. In 2013, for example, our group immediately switched up our schedule and took to the streets to join other Boston activists in protest when George Zimmerman was found not guilty for killing Trayvon Martin. Last summer, in Tucson, our youth joined a movement for immigration justice to #StandWithRosa as she found Sanctuary from deportation in a local church (pictured below, at an event in support of Rosa’s right to remain in the United States).
Growth: Youth are encouraged to come to terms directly with the identities that they hold and what this means in terms of their privilege and power within different systems. As Jenna Peeples, Activate Tucson ’13 alum, explains: “Even if only for a moment, we are ejected from our concentrated high school lives and put somewhere outside of our comfort zone; this allows us to open our eyes. We catch sight of not only our privilege, but the urgency that is associated with various issues going on around us.” Although participants do not need to be Unitarian Universalist to attend these trainings (and certainly some of our most enthusiastic participants were members of different faiths!) we do incorporate various UU elements and there is an emphasis on spiritual growth. Teens will have time to learn and try out a variety of spiritual practices, as well as plan and run their own youth worship in small groups. This in turn supports the difficult identity and justice-related work. Julia explains: “The UU component made it a place where I felt safe, even when faced with uncomfortable ideas.”
Community: Throughout the week, we do all kinds of fun things to build a tight-knit community amongst ourselves, and then extend that community to build relationships with the local justice-related organizations we’re in partnership with. In some programs teens will cook together, in others they form family groups that spend time reflecting and supporting each other’s processing etc., and we also engage the larger group in a variety of fun community-building and empowering activities. Each cohort has its own Facebook page, and teens often continue posting things many years after the trainings. I cannot even begin to explain how exciting it is in the weeks following these trainings to see the flurry of posts on the group pages about what cool justice thing each is now doing, what exciting protest they are going to that weekend, what thing happened that suddenly reminded them of this or that (and now they have “all the feels”). They form these really special friendships quickly over their shared values and immediate submersion in such difficult, meaningful work together.
Transformation: All of the above ultimately leads to these incredibly exciting transformations for the participants, who soon find themselves overwhelmingly inspired by what they have learned, seen and done. They feel empowered by the experiences and the tools they have picked up along the way; their engagement in social justice work has been *activated* and they go back to their congregations and communities with this freshly-revitalized sense of purpose.
Sam was consistently struck by the juxtaposition of such hideous, dehumanizing and tragic acts of hatred toward people crossing the border; set against the natural beauty and allure of the sunsets in Tucson.
Questions about Activate! and how to support your youth in attending an upcoming Justice Training? Email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org