“Racism is ignorance and it’s been going around for a long time. If we don’t so anything about it now, it will continue to be around for generations. We have to deal with it.” Quote from youth.

What is racism? What are our human rights, and how do we create an environment in which all rights are respected. These are some of the concepts the American Friends Service Committee, (AFSC) Racial Justice Through Human Rights youth group have been learning about and reflecting on.

Partnering with Pittsburgh Cares, Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy, (PYLA) program 13 youth grades, 10 through 11, are meeting regularly at the Friends Meeting House. The youth were racially, culturally and geographically diverse. They included people from small towns, from suburbia, from the Northside, the Southside, the West and the East. They came from suburban schools, inner city schools, schools that were majority African American and Schools that were majority white. One student was homeschooled. We had Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Unitarian and main line denominations in the group.

The first part of the program has been a learning experience for the youth. They explored the nature of violence, nonviolence and how social change movements work. Two sessions were devoted to diversity, and the history of racism. One of the youth observed, “I liked breaking down what racism is. Now I have a better background and knowledge about it.” In December with the help of staff from the AFSC program in Washington DC we explored human rights and especially how they relate to race and racism.  

In the New Year the youth are now applying some of the learning to help create a curriculum for others to use. They are taking turns in conducting exercises and evaluating them with practical suggestions on how helpful they are and how to improve them. This curriculum when finished will be used by other groups in the following years.

At the same time they are in the process of calling for Pittsburgh to be declared a Human Rights City. The youth are approaching their City Council members to ask them to pass a resolution such as the one passed by Washington DC. One of the letters written by the youth expressed their thoughts:

“Our group has discussed some of the issues that are currently facing Pittsburgh. Education, the achievement gap, police behavior in the community, violence, transportation, jobs, and fair housing are all issues of paramount importance to us as young people, as leaders, and as involved and passionate citizens. We believe that these issues, and many others as well, can be solved within the context of human rights.”

It is impressive to watch these young leaders explore concepts and engage with each other in finding new innovative ways to approach problems. They have come together from all over the city and area and have formed a community; one that is interested in making changes in our city and communities. At the same time they are sharing the information and ideas they are exploring with others in their home and schools.