Youth leaders have been instrumental in leading progressive movements throughout American history. During the Civil Rights Movement, young people played a pivotal role in ending segregation through nonviolent sit-ins and walk-outs. Youth organizers in the late sixties were responsible for lowering the voting age to 18. And more recently, Parkland students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organized one of the largest youth-led protests to date, mobilizing over 1.2 million people for the March for Our Lives protest.
Young people are still using their collective power to lead change-making movements. Our series – Following Their Lead: Youth in Action – spotlights youth-led advocacy groups across the country who are creating positive change on critical social and political issues.
Young people are experts on their lives and the change they want to see in the world; they also bear the consequences of today’s decision-making. Their voices are powerful and should be heard. The youth voice needs to be at the decision-making table for all issues. Their help is essential for an inclusive and responsive democracy.
Youth Rise Texas
Historically, Black, Latinx and young voters have had the smallest turnout rates in U.S. elections. So, leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Youth Rise Texas organized a voter mobilization event for young people and minorities in east Austin.
Youth Rise Texas is an Austin-based nonprofit comprised of young leaders directly impacted by incarceration and deportation. For more on how this organization works to create inclusive and compassionate communities, go to youthrisetx.org.
RISE for Youth
RISE for Youth is leading the way to end youth incarceration in Virginia. In 2017, RISE successfully led the fight for the closure of Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center, which had been in operation since 1890, and the reinvestment of millions of dollars into community-based services. Later that year, RISE was instrumental in stopping the construction of a new youth prison in Chesapeake. Virginia is now working with programs that provide rehabilitation for youth rather than harmful, outdated, and ineffective punishment.
RISE for Youth is a Virginia-based organization that advocates for alternatives to youth incarceration and is committed to uplifting the voices of justice system-involved youth to ensure that those most affected by the system have a seat at the decision-making table. For more information, go to riseforyouth.org.
Native Youth Alliance
Native Youth Alliance is focused on acquiring land for native youth homes, protecting the Omaha language from extinction, and stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. By working with the youth in the community, NYA strives to ensure that traditional Native American cultural and spiritual ways continue for the coming generations. Our video spotlights Alethea Phillips, NYA Program Director, in her fight against systemic injustice. For more information, visit facebook.com/NativeYouthAlliance.
Citizen University’s Youth Power Project gives young people from around the country the knowledge, skills, and connections for a lifetime of civic leadership. The latest video in our Youth in Action series spotlights several high school students from historically marginalized backgrounds who are breaking down barriers, building up communities, and transforming injustice - from creating safe spaces for LGBTQ teens to collecting feminine hygiene products for homeless women in Detroit to leading community workshops on cultural awareness. Check out what else Citizen University is doing to build a culture of powerful, responsible leadership: citizenuniversity.us
After Parkland, the young leaders of Chicago-based grassroots organization Communities United started a movement to spotlight their daily struggles and demand investment in communities of color. These teens are tackling the root causes of gun violence by fighting for youth employment opportunities, mental health services and funding for public schools.
Communities United is a Chicago-based grassroots organization that brings youth and adults together to address issues of systemic social, economic and racial injustice. Since its founding in 2000, the organization has won big legislative victories, including building two schools to relieve overcrowding, providing in-state tuition for undocumented students, and preserving affordable housing for families. Check out communitiesunited.org for more on how this inspiring organization is making a real impact.
Padres y Jóvenes Unidos
Life is full of fear and uncertainty for Hugo, as it is for many undocumented students. When ICE ambushed a classmate’s parent in front of his school, Hugo missed classes for a week out of fear that he’d be picked up too.
Watch Hugo and the other young leaders of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos fight fear and rise up to demand that all students regardless of immigration status have access to a high-quality education.
Colorado-based Padres y Jóvenes Unidos is an intergenerational organization led by people of color working on the issues of school discipline reform and immigrant justice by addressing the underlying causes of discrimination, racism, and inequity. In 2012, they scored a major legislative win with the passage of the Smart School Discipline Law to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement and to require school districts to implement prevention strategies such as counselling and restorative justice. The victory has meant statewide progress but there is still a long way to go to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
For more on what Padres y Jóvenes Unido is doing to end the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipelines, check out: padresunidos.org
Youth Vs. Apocalypse
Brave New Films has been on the lookout for dynamic organizations run by youth who completely re-imagine systems and envision new ways for these systems to run to benefit everyone. We want to introduce you to one such organization YOUTH VS. APOCALYPSE, a youth organized environmental justice group that brings climate issues to the classroom as part of 350 Bay Area’s youth program.
Youth Vs. Apocalypse burst onto the scene a few months ago when Senator Diane Feinstein chided the youth leaders when they asked her to consider the Green New Deal.
“Younger people have a fresher perspective on the world.” Nadra Goldberg said this as she was talking about the impending disaster of climate change and she is right. Youth have the passion, power and dedication to make the changes necessary to make the world livable for their generation and generation to come.
These youth leaders helped organize a climate strike where tens of thousands of young people and allies walked out of school and out of their jobs to bring attention to the Green New Deal and other actions needed to prevent climate change. As Isha and Hannah say in this piece, ‘we will not stop’ until there are viable solutions for the future. They are speaking truth to power as their growing numbers bring more attention to this issue.
Watch these young leaders turn ideas into action and lay the foundation for real change. Follow the rest of our series, Following Their Lead: Youth in Action to learn about other young leaders challenging the system and fighting for justice.
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