We were proud of the work AFSC did with KC area youth in our Social Change Institute and inspired by the work of the fifteen youth who whole-heartedly participated. We set out to create an environment where all ideas were respected and differences were embraced. We sought to have the youth deepen their understanding of and confront the injustices of our community and the power structures that create so much suffering in the world. Our aim was to empower youth and deepen their commitments to work for a better world through teaching skills of nonviolent social change, meeting with activists working in Kansas City and using the skills they learned.

We are thrilled to report that we succeeded in accomplishing these goals. The youth shared in written and videoed reflections that they felt empowered, committed and inspired to work to change our community and world for the better.

Students learned strategies and hands-on skills through varied creative, interactive activities… For example, how do you build a structure with a stack of newspapers and a role of masking tape? You use skills of listening, communicating, planning, and compromising to achieve your common goal.

How did a small group of students in Nashville inspire thousands to join them and end segregation in that city? Our Social Change youth know. How can you better understand the power and forces maintaining injustice? Play the “Star Power” simulation; do a "Force Field Analysis;" or create a “Problem Tree”   Small and large group activities provide Institute youth the opportunity to share, listen, respond, deepen and expand everyone’s knowledge and perspectives. 

Throughout the two-week Institute, youth studied critical issues in todays’ society and dug beneath the surface with their own research and analysis.  In addition to studying the current social and political climate, youth studied the social movements from the past.  Youth also heard presentations from local activists sharing their work on racial and economic injustice, community violence, community organizing, militarism, immigrant rights, labor organizing and much more.  

Finally, the Institute youth were given the task of organizing their own social change project.  The resulting Reverse the Power Festival, planned in a week and a half and attended by one hundred included two musical groups and youth singing and performing spoken word poetry and speaking out about working for social change.

But the impact of the Institute can best be illustrated by what the participants had to say about it:

  • As an aspiring immigration lawyer I can say that I learned many things that will help me make a definite decision about my career choice. I also learned that bringing change is difficult but it can be done. Using nonviolence is a great way to bring change. But we have to remember that change doesn't happen overnight. But change will come with dedication, knowledge, and faith. – Mercedes
  • I think that these two weeks has majorly impacted my life. It helped me understand that there really are lots of ways to change the world for the better… what really inspired me was just knowing that there are other kids out there who care as much about the issues in the world as I do... I think that with the right knowledge and training that we really can make a difference. –Rajanee
  • I learned a lot from just everybody. I learn more than I thought I would have this summer in just two weeks. I didn't know that there are still people really fighting for their rights till this day…. I have been inspired to be a better person, a peaceful person and just know that there are other people out there just like me that will stand behind me and fight for the rights. – Marcus
  • The two weeks has impacted me in many different ways. This camp has changed my outlook on the world… I thought people where homeless because of bad choices that they made in life. That may be the case for some people but not everybody. I have also realized that you might be the most quiet person ever, but you do have a voice and some people will recognize it. All you have to do is speak up... -Niani
  • I have learned a lot and being in this institute made me realize that I do have the power to make a change in the world, along with the rest of us! ... Instead of just talking about an issue in our community I will go out and take action, thanks to this institute I can now accomplish a lot. These past two weeks I have been inspired.  – Chandler
  • These two weeks have been filled with amazing stories, interesting talking points, and great people. I had a great deal of fun laughing and joking with fellow students, but this program was much more than a “hangout.” We discussed important issues that are present in not only our community, but also communities around the nation and even the world… The social change institute has “broadened my horizon” in a sense. I came into the program already having some knowledge of the issues that impact our society, but I learned more than I could ever imagine through the Institute. -Erick

 (Check out photos and more youth reflections from the Institute  and the Reverse the Power Festival and video from the Festival.)