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.

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