From the South Region’s northern-most office in Baltimore to its southern-most office in Miami, young activists are getting involved with their communities through internships with the American Friends Service Committee.
In 2015, two standout interns used their time with the AFSC to work with other young activists, get in touch with their communities and develop leadership and organizing skills.
In Baltimore, Meaca Downing (shown top right) has been working with Peace by Piece (PxP), a program that gives young people opportunities to promote justice, human rights, and peace on a local level while connecting issues to national policy opportunities.
As a public relations major, Downing said that she began to make connections between her work in school and her work with AFSC. “It has helped me with networking, and understanding resources—and how scarce those resources can be.”
Downing said that looking back on her 2015 experience with PxP, one highlight was working with high school students during the Summer of Us Young Advocates Camp in Baltimore (documented in our fall issue). “The workshops that we held opened their eyes so much,” she recalled. Some participants had never been exposed to urban gardening, a concept that could help close the gap of food availability in the city.
Food deserts are one issue that require immediate action in Baltimore, and Meaca described that urgency when talking about her internship. “It makes me proud to be a part of it,” she said about AFSC assisting PxP program director Farajii Muhammad to provide direct support on short notice. “He’s out there to help, and that’s [Farajii’s] first goal ... Baltimore needs a lot of help.”
In addition to the Summer of Us freedom school, Downing regularly participated in numerous community events and actions including a march on Maryland’s state capital of Annapolis on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday when PxP and supporters demanded legislative action against perpetrators of police brutality as part of AFSC’s SOAR (South Organizing Against Racism) campaign.
Looking forward, Downing hopes to continue working with AFSC as she completes her undergraduate studies. Currently she is involved in a project that uses social media and open data analytics to analyze and monitor nonviolent drug offenders during reentry from the Baltimore area correctional system.
In Miami, the American Friends Immigrant Services program hired Saul Aleman, an organizer from Homestead, FL, to help young people tell their stories about immigration. Originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Aleman came to the United States at the age of 3 and became involved with the immigrant rights movement after high school when he realized that attending college was a challenge for undocumented individuals.
After enrolling in college and becoming interested in the immigrant rights movement, Aleman co-founded Homestead Equal Rights for All (Homestead ERA), now the largest youth-led immigrant organization in Florida. With ERA and AFSC, he focuses on empowering immigrant youth so that their stories can reach the greater community.
“I’m proud of being able to train leaders, being able to recruit leaders,” he says of identifying powerful voices in the youth in an Acting in Faith interview with AFSC.
With AFIS, Aleman is busy: he works to educate the public on eligibility for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents Accountability), while also working to end the relationship between Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local polic, to prevent raids that target upstanding members of sociey who happen to be undocumented.
“I’m definitely going to be around in the community to support AFSC, and anyone who feels they need to have their voices heard,” states Aleman about his involvement, though his internship period with AFSC has concluded.
Interns like Saul and Meaca prove that the next generation of change lies in our youth—activists who are invested in their communities now and for years to come.