Love and Justice

Love and Justice

The following post was written by Elizabeth Nguyen, a program leader of the 2012 UUCSJ summer youth training. Nguyen will be leading the 2013 Boston Youth Justice Training, which will take place June 30–July 21.

On July 11, partway into last year’s youth justice program, our group packed up our sunscreen and water bottles from our home base in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood and boarded a bus for Roxbury.

We had spent days packed full of rich experience: interactive, intensive learning; evening worships that found us building altars in our common space, walking silently through the city, and singing by the Charles River; moments of laughter playing games on the Boston Common and having an impromptu dance party; sharing our life stories through drawing; and immersing ourselves in questions of economic justice, learning from partners at UUSC and from young people at the Roxbury Youth Program. Now we were headed to meet with our partners at Haley House.

We’d learned about the housing discrimination that formed the foundations for the housing segregation we live today. We’d learned about the restaurant industry and the labor movement and organizations like the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United that are working to bring the two together. We’d learned a lot about why economic inequity exists and how it’s intertwined with race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Now we were off to encounter the economic inequality that is the reality in our world. We spent that sunny July day scraping paint in preparation for a new coat at the Haley House’s South End community kitchen followed by justice walking tour of Boston. The participants were delving into issues of gentrification, urban violence, and institutional racism. And they could see it — in the dwindling number of trash cans as we walked from the South End of Boston into the historically African American Roxbury neighborhood, in the increasing number of pawn shops and empty storefronts.

And then we felt it in our hearts as we encountered the beginnings of a vigil held for teen Lance Hartgrove, who had been killed in a stabbing the day before. As a ministerial student and a staff member at the summit, I’d led the group in conversation after hearing about Lance’s death. I wanted them to know the depth of tragedy, the loss that is real, that doesn’t happen out there in some anonymous city, but happens right here — in our cities. And also didn’t want our group of UUs, most with much economic and race privilege, to see Roxbury just as violence or grief. I didn’t want to perpetuate the media’s sensationalism, didn’t want to be any more complicit in a world that “others” crime and sees it as brown and black and young and male and gangs and robberies — not as white and white collar and rich and banks and lobbyists, the military-industrial complex, drones, and the murder that is the death penalty.

This is our world: broken, bleeding. And our religion as Unitarian Universalists calls us, not to turn away from the suffering, not to drive through Roxbury on our way to yet another suburb — but to love.

And I don’t mean easy love — smiling on the street, being kind to a neighbor. I mean the love that says both I won’t turn away from suffering and also I will know that it’s not enough to love without skill and action. Love calls me to get ready. To get trained. To learn about systems of class, race, gender, and heterosexism. Love asks me that I figure out what it means to receive the unearned privilege of these systems and what it means to be oppressed by these systems. Love asks me to learn the skills for making justice: facilitation, relationship building, teaching, listening, and writing. And it asks me to practice them. To practice them and to use them. And to do it out of love, as if our world depends on it. Because, yes, it does.

If you are a high school youth, you are already creating the world. You may be throwing your heart and hands against it and bending the arc of it ever more toward justice. You may be staring down at your hands, at your community, brokenhearted by the injustices. You may be watching on, feeling helpless to change anything. You may be torn, trying to give time toward causes that matter to you and also wanting to pursue the things that nurture your spirit: sports and friends, college and family.

Wherever you are in your journey as a teen, the Boston Youth Justice Training — learning, spirituality, community, and action — will get you ready. Join us!

Apply Here!

Fundraising for Your Youth Program

Though it may seem overwhelming at first, you can afford to take part in youth programs with the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ)! How? Fundraising — a key skill for social justice work. Being able to talk about money and how it can express your UU values will serve you in your endeavors now and in the future.

First, remember that program fees cover on-the-ground costs, including lodging, meals, program transportation, required educational materials, and the services of program leaders before, during, and after the trip. Participants are responsible for covering the cost of their own airfare, transportation to program site, and health insurance.

Once your parent(s)/guardian(s) have filled out your application and you’ve been accepted, it’ll be time to start raising money. Keep in mind the following pointers:

  • Talk honestly with your family about how much of the program fee they can pay for and how much you’ll need to fundraise.
  • Ask for donations — from your congregation, individuals in it, important adults in your life, community organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary Club, local businesses, government offices, and nonprofits. Whether you use an online fundraising platform (like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter) or host an old-fashioned spaghetti dinner at your congregation, your community can’t support you as a justice leader unless you ask.
  • Connect your fundraising to your faith — when you’re asking for donations from UU people or organizations, reference UU principles. Make the connection between your beliefs and why you want to attend a UUCSJ youth program.

Resources to support your fundraising:

What Makes You Come Alive?

What Makes You Come Alive?

Elias Estabrook was a recent grassroots mobilization intern at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) whose work focused on engaging youth. Here he reflects on the National Youth Justice Summit, a UU College of Social Justice program that he attended in the final week of his internship.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

—Rev. Howard Thurman

What does this mean for young people like me? Rev. Howard Thurman’s widely cherished and respected words capture what I grapple with as I seek out opportunities to learn about the world and make a difference. Where and how will I discover what truly makes me come alive? And how can we help other youth discover that for themselves?

Over the past two months, after an eight-month immersion experience abroad, I’ve settled into UUSC’s office in Cambridge as an intern for grassroots mobilization. Just as I did in my rural, Senegalese host community, I’ve taken on the challenge of examining the role of youth in social change — and formulating ways for them to engage as leaders and aware members of society. In particular, I’ve focused on youth activism with respect to economic justice, from fair trade to restaurant workers’ rights.

In my final week, I had the opportunity to attend parts of the National Youth Justice Summit, a UU College of Social Justice program. It was a privilege to see how 10 young Unitarian Universalists — much like I was just a few years ago — are tackling fundamental questions about social justice and developing realistic visions for how they can be agents of change. During the week, the youth forged connections as they shared perspectives. They were united by not only their UU faith and their leadership qualities but also their joint motivation and aspiration to make a difference. And that week can serve as the jumping off point for something even bigger.

It was a blessing to end my stint at UUSC with such an interactive week. As we closed one of the sessions, assembled in a circle with joined hands, I voiced my gratitude for seeing my hopes for engaged young people manifested in the wisdom and determination of these eager leaders. Even though I spent much of my internship at a desk shaping important research and creative ideas into strategic information kits and workshop programs, being face-to-face with young UUs for a short time was ultimately the most gratifying. It made the youth-led social-justice movement I was envisioning and writing about incredibly real.

The world needs youth leaders to take on the complicated challenges of our time. But there are far too many for one young leader to take on alone. And so, as Howard Thurman believes, we need more youth who are intrinsically motivated and passionate about the good they can do in the world. As they explore, they will discover what they are most drawn to, whether it be campaigning for marriage equality or coordinating job-training programs for marginalized youth.

Bringing out this enthusiasm and conviction is, of course, easier said than done. Reaching and harnessing this energy was one of the greatest challenges of my work. How do you motivate youth to contribute to social action, to understand and get involved with an important human-rights campaign? These were the questions I pondered. Yet, after this National Youth Justice Summit, this task seems much more possible. Surrounded by lively, inquisitive, and invested youth, I find my optimism about our generation reaffirmed.

Questions about the National Youth Justice Summit? Contact us about this and more service-learning opportunities.