This piece was originally published as part of KCET’s City Rising series, and is written by Dr. May Lin, close CFJ ally and researcher, and Geordee Mae Corpuz, Strategy Director with CFJ.
What comes to mind when you think about what youth movements look, sound and feel like? You might envision BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth walking out of classes en masse, bringing life to streets and stuffy board meetings with colorful signs. You might hear their voices amplified through megaphones, calling boldly to uplift the humanity of all Black lives, implement relevant curriculum that centers their communities, prioritize care overcriminalization and much more. You might feel electrifying energy, rage and glimmers of hope.
There are also aspects of youth organizing that look, sound and feel quite different: youth gathering in a circle to express genuine, unfiltered heartbreak and palpable fear in light of the relentless assaults on their communities. Or youth and adults, in synchronization, practicing slow and controlled movements of tai chi in between strategic planning to create more loving schools.
Youth organizing contains multitudes, all of the above and much more. The previous few examples are just a small glimpse into youth organizing groups’ healing-centered approaches to social change (which BIPOC movement leaders and scholars have conceptualized as “healing justice,” “transformative organizing” and “radical healing.”) Such frameworks seek to undo the many pervasive harms of white supremacy that intersect with other systems of oppression. Transformative organizing, for example, seeks to fully transform all levels of society, including the inner and outer lives of youth: for example, morphing internalized racism into pride in one’s identity, to radically changing cultures of schools.
These frameworks didn’t appear out of nowhere, but rather draw upon long legacies of traditional cultural practices and healing praxis by Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian, Middle Eastern and other women of color, as well as disabled and queer, trans and gender-nonconforming folks. Youth organizations often quote Black lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde, who proclaimed in 1988 upon learning of her cancer diagnosis that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
This piece uplifts specific quotes and examples from Californians for Justice, a statewide youth-powered organization working to improve the lives of communities of color, immigrant, low-income, LGBTQ and other marginalized communities, contextualized with research from other youth organizing groups. However, there are many groups that center healing justice. Some other BIPOC youth organizing groups in California that have led the way in healing practices include MILPA Collective, Urban Peace Movement, Khmer Girls in Action and Resilience OC.
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