“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Deitrich Bonhoeffer

This quotation captures the spirit of the work AFSC’s St. Louis Peacebuilding Program is doing with youth. Not only do we want to engage in positive youth development, we also want to empower youth to become the agents of change that will break down oppressive and unjust systems.

For four weeks this summer we did both in our first Youth Empowerment Program (YEP!).  Lane Holden, a St. Louis Peace Education intern, reflects on her experience with YEP!

My name is Lane Holden and I’m a junior, Sociology major at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

During my spring semester at Macalester, I had the opportunity to take a class about the phenomenon of the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Understanding the extent of racial inequality present in schools across the country from books and discussion was a powerful experience, however somewhat insufficient in grasping the true prejudice present in schools.

My class on the School-to-Prison Pipeline prompted a desire to gain insight, from a more personal perspective, into how the pipeline intersects with the lives of many youths. I wanted to work with the St. Louis Peace Education Program in order to gain this stronger understanding of the School-to-Prison pipeline, by working more closely with individuals whose lives are affected by aspects of it.

In addition to writing a program report including what the Peace Education Program had done in schools over the past year, I had the chance to work with the Summer Youth Empowerment Program. This 4-week program involved five young adults and was created to improve the opportunities for these at-risk youth.

The first week of the program focused on the structure of the School-to-Prison Pipeline—creating awareness about the discipline systems and discrimination in schools that are funneling youth of color out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

During the subsequent three weeks, the five youth interned at Danger Schmanger, a t-shirt printing press committed to making St. Louis a better place by supporting local artists, youth, immigrants, and refugees in various ways. The goal of this internship was to equip the youth with the skills necessary to be hirable at any of the many t-shirt printing presses in St. Louis in the future.

In addition to learning these job skills, the youth created their own t-shirt design to spread awareness of the School-to-Prison Pipeline and how it affects their lives and the lives of many, many more individuals. My experience this summer with the AFSC St. Louis director, Joshua Saleem, the youth interns, and the artists at Danger Schmanger was more powerful and instrumental than I imagined it would be. I am more than grateful I had the opportunity to work with the AFSC St. Louis.

Comparison of pre- and post-test surveys indicated that 100% of participants had an increased understanding and knowledge of the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Results also demonstrated an increased sense of self-efficacy among all participants.

Four of the five youth are continuing their internships with Danger Schmanger this fall. Stay tuned for their t-shirts addressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline! – Joshua Saleem