By Jonathan Pulphus, Program Associate, AFSC St. Louis
I started working for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) January 8, 2018. Prior to joining the team, I was working part-time and preparing myself for graduate school. I planned to pursue a masters and doctorate in African American Studies to position myself to teach and expand the curriculum.
While that’s still a goal, I learned about the opening for the St. Louis Peace Education Program Associate, researched the larger organization, and immediately applied. AFSC’s work was introduced to me as a sophomore at Saint Louis University while with the Black Student Alliance (BSA). Joshua “Bro.” Saleem, the Peace Education Program Director, visited a BSA executive meeting to promote Freedom School. After I completed the hiring process, I was immediately introduced to the world of AFSC.
My time with AFSC has been smooth and meaningful work. The first few months, I went from connecting with associates of the organization to co-planning my first event. I am thankful for everyone who gave me advice and unfiltered input on AFSC. Bro. Saleem has played and continues to function as a key role.
The first event that I got to help put together was the “Pipe Dreams Premiere” documentary screening and panel. This film focused on the school-to-prison pipeline through the lens of the St. Louis community. The event was successful with a packed audience and fruitful discussion.
Later on in the summer, I got to help plan my first Freedom School. I first encountered the program in name and principles as a middle-school student at Patrick Henry with staff at Jamison Memorial Church in St. Louis. The chance to organize one for area young people proved nostalgic and fulfilling in a real way.
The opportunities to network and travel around social justice interests have been a rewarding part of my journey. I’ve met brilliant people with diverse backgrounds, skills, and talents. I have visited Atlanta for a Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) think tank space. YUIR is youth organizing brainchild of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB).
AFSC partners with PISAB to promote YUIR chapters and their grassroots efforts in cities across the United States. I got to meet various chapter leaders from Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Paul/Minneapolis, and more to share best practices. I’ve also been to Minneapolis for a Midwest Retreat where I connected with leaders in my region.
The highlight of my experience with AFSC has been working with self-determined young people. Whether in schools or community, these future leaders have humbled and given me purpose. In an article that was published in the St. Louis American, I wrote about one young person named Dominic. I met Dominic amongst a group of scholars at one of the schools where we coach peer mediation. Peer mediation is a mechanism for practicing conflict resolution as an alternative to school suspensions.
Dominic delivered an outstanding speech at a community event calling out officials and stakeholders on the school-to-prison pipeline issue. When meeting with the youth like Dominic and his peers, it's about more than a program plan. We talk classes, sports, relationships, activities, technology, art, jobs, and activism. However, it’s also about their joy, pain, sacrifices, challenges, and hopes. They reassure me that everything moving forward is gon be alright “no cap.”
Key figures in my life have shaped who I am as an individual and my desire to work for an organization like AFSC. Due to these angels, who are family or close friends, I have been instilled with black pride, community responsibility, and social justice. One who I want to lift up has recently passed, Paulino Zasaretti Sr. He was a community leader, hero, and family-oriented soul. I strive to carry his charisma and legacy as I continue another year in this work with AFSC.