This summer, Voices for Racial Justice conducted our first ever organizing training for youth. The Youth Cultural Organizing Training (YCOT) embedded cultural strategy into an organizing intensive with an explicit race lens for 10 high school youth of color ages 14-18. We understand that social change cannot happen without cultural change. The choice to prioritize cultural strategy came out of the understanding that arts and culture must be at the center of organizing and movement building with our communities of color.
To model how building collective power can look in community, we brought 11 trainers on board, made up of organizers, artists, and culture makers from our larger informal network, five of whom also served as organizing mentors for the cohort. Over the course of the 4-week training, participating youth not only had the opportunity to strengthen relationships with each other, but build new ones with organizers and artists doing powerful work in the movement. Sessions tackled relationship building, different levels of racism, strategy development, power mapping, youth participatory action research, narrative building, policy tools, navigating social media in organizing, intersectional movement building, among other topics. We also incorporated hip hop, spoken word, and visual art sessions in correlation to topics of identity, systems change, education, and racial justice.
Maimouna Shariff Mohammed, 17, a YCOT alum and youth organizer in our Parks and Power Campaign shared that the summer training provided clarity and pushed her to think more critically around how to challenge the stories that mainstream tells about communities of color. “It has opened my mind,” Maimouna says, “and forced me to think of my power in changing the dominant narrative that’s forced down our throats.” The approach of embedding arts and culture was a selling point for many of the summer cohort participants. As a woman of color who was a child immigrant, I know that art saved me and helped me find a voice to speak to my own struggles and feelings of displacement, to speak to a world that made me feel very small. The key in embedding art in YCOT was to demonstrate that movement building and organizing requires artists and culture makers as active participants in both self-reflection and strategy building.
As we at Voices for Racial Justice work to strengthen our youth organizing strategies we will continue to center the voices of youth and work to open spaces to lift their voices, knowledge and growth. Although this is new for us, and there will be plenty of more lessons to learn, we are humbled and excited by the possibilities that lay ahead as we build collective power with Minnesota’s youth of color.
Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez is the Youth Organizing Director at Voices for Racial Justice. The initiation of this summer training and our ongoing work this school year was made possible by The Minneapolis Foundation.