This post was written by a parent of one of last year’s participants from our youth justice training in New Orleans.
Last spring, we began the annual ritual of finding something for our son Jack to do over the summer. Then 15, Jack had attended UU church since the 1st grade, and while I looked at a wide range of options, the UU College of Social Justice programming stood out. I loved the idea of strengthening Jack’s ties to the faith and, as an enthusiastic youth group and CON participant, he loved the idea of a week-long UU experience in such an exciting city.
But I wasn’t expecting much. I knew that the UUCSJ was still pretty new, and suspected the program might be glorified babysitting. In this I was entirely mistaken. The New Orleans trip literally changed Jack’s life. He returned home with deep connections to UU youth throughout the country, and an intensified commitment to social justice issues that is beginning to shape his thoughts about college and the future.
Sometimes the best lessons come from unexpected sources. During Jack’s stay, the group attended a church service that was disrupted by the pro-life Operation Save America. The way that UU Minister Deanna Vandiver handled the situation demonstrated, as no workshop or presentation could, how to meet anger and hate with non-violent love and resistance.
Behind every eager youth participant is an anxious parent, and I had my share of worries about how well the program would be run. Again, the New Orleans program exceeded my expectations. Both the Boston staff and the onsite program team were incredibly competent, caring, and responsive to my questions and concerns.
Jack will finish 11th grade in June, and we are once again exploring summer opportunities. Although many factors are coming into play – including those ubiquitous college visits – near the top of the list is the Activate Southwest Border trip. And truly, there can be no greater “testimonial” to the efficacy of the CSJ’s programs than that.
Janet Spector Bishop
Mother of Jack Spector Bishop, participant in the summer 2014 New Orleans youth trip
The following post was written by Sierra Rother, age 16. A student from Northampton, Mass., attending St. Mark’s School, Rother was a participant in this summer’s Youth Justice Training in Boston.
I honestly did not know what I was getting myself into when I hit the “submit” button on my application to the Boston Youth Justice Training (YJT). I barely knew what I was applying for. The only thing that mattered to me was that I would be spending my summer working for a cause. Working with other kids my age to fight against the systems of oppression and fight for youth leadership.
When I arrived in Newton, Mass., at the Andover Newton Theological School campus, I was nervous and unsure of everything. I managed to settle into my room then ventured to meet the group of people I would be living with. I didn’t know then, but these were the people that would become my new family. They were going to support me and help me grow throughout the next three weeks.
The following day we packed up everything we had unpacked the day before, and headed off to the City School’s Summer Leadership Program (SLP) retreat. Once we arrived there we had embarked on a new adventure. During the three days at the retreat, I had some of the most eye-opening and empowering experiences of my life. I heard stories that made me cry and laugh at the same time. I was introduced to ideas that never occurred to me. I met people that gave me new perspective. And so I acquired another family.
After the retreat ended, the YJT headed back to Newton. We were all touched by everything that had taken place over the past three days. When we all came together again, I could see how hard everyone was trying to look unaffected. Their expressions were somber. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was emotionally drained. As I looked around the circle, I realized that all of these people were here for me. We were here for each other. We were 20 youth holding each other up while being challenged by one another and the adults leading the program.
Before we knew it, it was Monday morning and we were off to SLP. We were all ecstatic to rejoin the friends that we made at the retreat. For two weeks, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, YJT was a part of SLP. We gained unforgettable knowledge from such a diverse group of participants and staff. For the remaining two days of the week, we were all placed at internships. I was fortunate enough to get the experience of working at both UUCSJ, with YJT youth, and another program called Sub/Urban Justice alongside SLP participants. The reason I was at two different internships was because I had made arrangements with the City School to continue with SLP for the entire program. YJT only participated in the first three weeks of SLP. I was so lucky to have a place to stay for the last four weeks, because I did not want to leave.
When the first three weeks were over, I said goodbye to my YJT family. To tell the truth, I was excited to no longer have to ride the train with 19 other teenagers every day. But when I walked into SLP the following Monday, something was missing. It was that core group of people that I had been living with for the preceding weeks. It was the friends I had made that knew me better than anyone else. I was missing my family. It felt unfamiliar to navigate this place that I knew very well without the 20 people who had been there for me the past three weeks. Even though I had made lifelong friendships at SLP already, it wasn’t the same.
Now, as the final days of SLP are upon me and the rest of the participants, I am as comfortable as ever and enjoying every last bit if time I have with all of these incredible people. Sadly, I am the only SLP participant that does not live in Boston which makes good-bye even harder for me. All I can do now is reflect on the time I had being a part of YJT and SLP, and remember what I was taught. Fighting for justice is hard to do, even harder when you’re only 16 years old. But youth are the future, and the future starts now.
The following post was written by Carly Moulis, age 17. A student at Albemarle High School, in Charlottesville, Va., Moulis was a participant in the 2012 UUCSJ summer youth program.
Carly Moulis, far left, and other participants in the 2012 Youth Justice Training, Rosie Cohen, Hannah Brennan, and Jamey Harman.
All my life, I have been told I am lucky. Lucky to live in the USA, lucky to have the guarantee of food, safety, support, freedom, and love. I pitied people who suffered; I felt bad for them. I signed up for the Youth Justice Summit because this thought suddenly sickened me. Pity does not make life easier, and it won’t help someone get food on the table. But what if I had the courage to go out into the world and try to help? I had just finished my sophomore year of high school, and I didn’t really know what to do next. I was sick of the bubble I lived in, and I wanted to do something.
Soon enough I was on a plane, oblivious to what my next week would hold. I could never have prepared myself for the emotional experiences I would face in Boston nor the bonds of friendship I would make there. Being with other people who wanted to change things gave me courage I could have never found on my own.
Throughout the week, we learned about social injustice and how to combat it in our lives. Before I knew it, it was our last night and I had a choice to make. I had gained insight, credibility, understanding, love, friendship, and a changed view on the world.
Now, what should I do with all of this? I could go home, back to Virginia, and forget it all. Forget the pain I saw, forget the hunger, forget the sadness, forget the injustice — but that would mean I would also forget the love I saw, forget the beauty, forget the dreamers, forget my friends, and forget who I had become.
There is pain in our world, but there is possibility within it. I spent one week in Boston at the UU College of Social Justice, but it gave me insight for a lifetime.
Learn about the 2013 Youth Justice Trainings.
The following post was written by Rosie Cohen, age 17. A student at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., Cohen was a participant in the 2012 UUCSJ summer youth program.
A few days into my week at UUCSJ’s National Youth Justice Summit (NYJS), we were all gathered for a leadership training session that, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t completely excited about. We had all spent the last few days in intense workshops and stimulating meditations — generally, activities that I felt passionate about. I didn’t think something called leadership training would bring out any of my passions for social justice.
I was wrong. In fact, this was probably one of the most exciting parts of the week for me, because suddenly everything turned real. By the time we’d finished with the leadership workshop, I had this amazing rush as I realized that I was gearing up to go home and take with me tools, support, and confidence to start my own social justice undertaking. We practiced networking skills and setting goals, and we started to think about what kinds of things we were all going to focus on when we got home.
The hopes and dreams I have for my social justice work are widely spread over many issues that are all close to my heart, and at times, though exciting, these hopes and dreams can be overwhelming and seem even unreasonable. Because of NYJS, I was able to hone in on a couple of issues that I care deeply about and focus on making real change. I remember sitting on a hill at Boston Common in the sun, starting to think about the prospect of doing something real for my community. If the idea of taking on a project scared me, I would think back to the multitudes of support that I received from my peers at NYJS as well as our amazing advisors and presenters during the week.
As of now, I’m starting to put together my project. I am creating a young girls’ empowerment group at an elementary school in my neighborhood. The group will meet regularly for the rest of the 2013 school year and focus on media literacy, women’s history, and feminism. I am still in planning stages, but I already have support from parents, and a good number of kids have started to sign up. I sought out a local organization that I wanted to be involved in my project, and now I have more support than ever. Without all the knowledge I gained during NYJS, along with the teeming encouragement from everyone there, I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to take on anything. My week in Boston was totally life changing. If you have the opportunity to go to one of the 2013 programs, I highly recommend it!