In the year since the killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri touched off mass protests against racism and police brutality across the country, AFSC programs from coast to coast have taken to the streets to help lift up the call for racial justice. But we haven’t just been protesting. For years, AFSC has worked with young people to address institutionalized racism and develop skills in community leadership and peace building.
Northwest: Standing up to jail expansion, undoing institutional racism
AFSC's Community Justice Program in Seattle develops youth leadership for social change by working to end racial disparities in the juvenile and adult justice systems. In the Tyree Scott Freedom School, youth analyze the systems that perpetuate violence and injustice and learn about social change movements, empowering them to promote racial justice, human rights, and peace. In addition to the Freedom Schools, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) meets weekly to provide opportunities to develop leadership for change. Participants gain depth of knowledge about social justice issues; enhance planning, facilitation, and organizing skills; and implement projects that challenge racism.
Most recently, YUIR led the struggle against plans to build a controversial youth detention center in Seattle. For three years, they attended countless public hearings, held protests and rallies, and canvassed from neighborhood to neighborhood. Though King County Council eventually voted to approve the facility, they reduced its original size by a third, announcing plans to stop incarcerating youth for some minor offenses and to cut incarceration for probation violations in half. YUIR was pleased to see some positive changes, but vowed to continue the struggle against the prison industrial complex.
“Prison buildings are often lobbied for by corporations, construction companies, architects, [and] prison-supply companies, while people of color fill the prisons,” AFSC’s Dustin Washington told the media. “That is part of a systemic problem, and we all know that can’t be destroyed in one day. They couldn’t have thought we would admit defeat after one vote.”
South: Building community “Peace by Piece”
In AFSC’s South region, AFSC offices are expanding Peace by Piece (PxP) a program that prepares young people to be peace leaders by training them to teach nonviolence and principled solutions to conflict. By tapping into successful initiatives tested in New Orleans, and shaping new groups of young people who are involved in their respective communities elsewhere, AFSC is developing a strong platform for tackling social issues region wide.
PxP originated in New Orleans in 2010, when youth in AFSC’s Peace & Conflict Transformation Project decided to address violence in their city. After participating in nonviolence trainings, these young New Orleanians worked to demonstrate alternatives to violence by using artistic expression—using hip-hop, dance, spoken word, and other art forms to talk about peace.
Now led by area director Dee Dee Green, and assisted by motivated interns, PxP NOLA is working on multiple issues including housing development and neighborhood food programs. Participants organize special communitywide events such as Healing Through the Arts, which showcases local talent, and the Peace Is Power Parade, which will run for its fifth year this September.
In Baltimore, Farajii Muhammad is guiding PxP through a busy summer with its new campaign Summer of Us. Between teaching social justice workshops for high school students, volunteering at the new ConneXions Leadership Academy library, organizing a town hall meeting that was broadcast live on two radio stations, and sponsoring an activist camp at Mervo High School, the Summer of Us has PxP Baltimore youth out in the community nonstop.
In Atlanta, Joel Dickerson is leading PxP with an emphasis on teaching the deep history of African American communities. “We are creating courses that guide our students to empower themselves to be the change they want to see in their neighborhoods,” Joel explains.
But the program offers more than a history lesson—Joel has planned a theater arts course, a sewing/fashion class, and a computer programming class that will teach coding and computer basics. “With the Coding Collective, we aim to start a worker cooperative made up of high school and college-age students in the area … that provides both ownership and income for our youth.”