By Hannah Arwe
Manager of Youth Programs
“If we just sit around and let the adults figure it out they will just mess it up!”
“The way to make change is to be a part of programs like this so that we can see and deal with what’s going on and actually be the change we wish to see in the world.”
“Everyone says the children are our future. But we are changing things right now. We are working in organizations and talking about this stuff. It’s so important to go out and do it because there are so many important opportunities.”
These are just a few of the wise words from the teens that guided our time together in the most recent Or Tzedek session. The curiosity, wit, and dedication of this group was palpable and by the end I was confident that in just a few years, I’ll be taking my organizing cues from them.
At every organization we visited, the teens asked for more ways to be supportive, get involved, and invest in the work that is already happening around them. At Growing Home, an organic farm that provides fresh produce and job development services to the Englewood community, teens flew through their projects and offered to help clear out an entire section we were not even assigned. At CAIR Chicago – the Council on American Islamic Relations, several teens asked how they could get involved after the program as interns. At the Jackson ‘L’ stop where we canvassed riders for police accountability, teens collected over 100 signatures in only an hour and a half.
In every discussion and reflection conversation, teens pushed back and probed with tough questions and perspectives. In our workshops on identity, privilege, and systemic oppression, teens offered countless examples of where they see racism and sexism occurring in their lives. In our lesson on allyship & solidarity, our collective definition of what an ally is was so long because each teen kept adding more to it to raise the stakes.
Between and among our field trips, activities, and actions, teens continuously shared their own social justice experience in inspiring ways. They talked about how they have begun conversations around white privilege in their own classrooms, synagogues, and friend groups. They talked about the words they’ve already published online about LGBTQ rights and the current political climate. They listed so many different organizations they are already working for, and how they want to build that list in the future.
This session we completely erased our goal of teaching teens how to start thinking about social justice and systemic oppression. Instead we learned together the many ways young people are already demanding change in their communities and how we can all grow in and continue this work for years to come.