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.
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When a group of young people in Mississippi researched voting trends and discovered that 445,000 citizens in their state were unregistered AND that those voters skewed younger, poorer, and included the most marginalized populations in the state, Mississippi Vote (MS Votes) was formed. In their first year, MS Votes recruited over 400 statewide volunteers and registered over 4,000 voters. Using outreach strategies that empower young people, MS Votes encourages civic engagement, and educates communities on voting rights through grassroots organizing. Mississippi Votes aims to build an electorate that best reflects the demographics of its state.
For more information go to www.msvotes.org
RHAP (Reproductive Health Access Project)
With Planned Parenthood under attack and sex ed considered taboo in their community, young people in Tucson have taken their sexual education into their own hands. Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP) uses a peer to peer model to teach comprehensive sexual education to teens by teens on topics including birth control, pregnancy testing, STI testing, consent and healthy relationships. RHAP has served over 4000 young people since they opened in 2017 and are making a huge difference to Tucson’s most vulnerable young people.
Watch our latest Following Their Lead: Youth in Action piece and see RHAPs story now.
For more information go to https://www.elrio.org/service/teens/
Teens Take Charge
65 Years after Brown v. Board of Education, New York City’s public schools are among the most segregated in the nation. Tired of decisions about their schools being made without their voice, a coalition of high school students formed Teens Take Charge, a student advocacy group that is calling on Mayor De Blasio to racially, socioeconomically and academically integrate New York City’s public high schools. Watch their story to find out how they mobilized to demand schools #IntegrateNow.
For more information go to www.teenstakecharge.com
Other Organizations on School Integration:
Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT)
Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) is a Milwaukee-based student group that is mobilizing and training young people of color to be civically engaged. Through advocacy, leadership and organizing, LIT is fighting for an equitable society with racial, gender, economic, and LGBTQ+ justice. In our latest #YouthInAction series, LIT is fighting to stop the school to prison pipeline. Watch our film to find out if LIT’s demand to invest in their future, not their failure succeeds.
For more information go to www.litmke.org
Sophrosyne Mental Health
Emily Weinberg was fifteen when she was hospitalized for depression and anxiety and seventeen when she founded Sophrosyne Mental Health - a resource for teens to find a safe place to talk about mental health, learn skills, and meet other teens facing similar issues. Considering suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-24, Sophrosyne believes that mental health, like physical health, needs to be taught early and should be intertwined with overall health curriculum in schools.
Watch Brave New Film’s latest #YouthInAction film and find out how Sophrosyne is advocating for legislation to make mental health education mandatory in all public schools in Massachusetts as early as the 5th grade
For more information go to www.sophrosynementalhealth.com
Assata’s Daughters is a Black women-led organization formed by Black feminists and organizers in the south side of Chicago as a reaction to the violence in their neighborhoods. Under the shared respect and study of Black Liberation Army member, Assata Shakur, Assata’s Daughters provides mentorship for young people to participate in a meaningful way for Black lives. Members of Assata’s Daughters learn tactics and strategies to organize and address the many social issues that impact their world such as gentrification, displacement, and police in schools.
Watch our latest #YouthInAction film and find out how Assata's Daughters fight for change and overcome many obstacles, including the recent fire in their Chicago homequarters.
For more information go to www.assatasdaughters.org
MoCo Students for Change
MoCo Students for Change is a completely youth-led organization that was founded by students across Montgomery County, Maryland in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. Within weeks of the shooting, they mobilized 6,000 students from over 40 schools in the area to rally on Capitol Hill to fight against gun violence.
Our 8th Youth In Action video spotlights MoCo Students for Change one year later. Congress has done little, but these students haven’t given up. They are fighting for their survival. They’ve lobbied state and federal legislators and have helped pass laws that include domestic violence prohibitions and extreme risk protection orders. Watch as they prepare for the 2019 National School Walkout. These students are stronger, more focused, and policy-driven than ever before.
For more information go to www.mocoforchange.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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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