As we grapple with the recent violence in Wisconsin, America’s Promise and The 74 Million held a Youth Town Hall to hear the perspectives and advice of young people during this important moment in our history. In that conversation, Shanyce, a high school senior from Staten Island, NY, said something that is particularly relevant in this moment:
This can’t be just politics—this is the reality that I come home to. We can’t brush it off and say ‘it happens’–schools should have open conversations about this, because it’s not going away.”
Those words, that wisdom, should guide those of us in the youth-supporting sector.
This week’s incidents are inextricably linked to the subtle and unsubtle messages young people receive day in and day out—in school, in the media, on the Internet—about the value of Black lives and the lives of people of color. Our society, our policies, and our history have perpetuated structures and systems that were created by and designed to protect white supremacy, and we must be honest about that reality.
We are not born racist, but we are born into racism. The mindsets and ideals that have led to this moment are learned through engagement with the people and systems around us. We all have a responsibility to help build anti-racist systems and create learning environments that dismantle white supremacy, instead of perpetuating the vicious cycle we’re in.
We also must acknowledge that the nonprofit, youth-supporting sector has contributed to the problem of systemic racism. For too long, the common narratives about “grit,” the “achievement gap,” and “low-performing schools” have reiterated the effects of racism, but have not addressed the root causes and, in fact, have perpetuated stereotypes that codify a racist worldview. Instead of relying on narratives that place the blame for disparate outcomes on marginalized students, we must focus on changing the racist systems that have created those disparities in the first place. We know that our Alliance alone cannot reverse centuries of systemic racism. However, as an Alliance of more than 450 youth-supporting organizations, we are in a particularly powerful place to start repairing and moving toward an anti-racist future for young people.
Earlier this summer, our Alliance made a commitment to address systemic racism through our work and to bring young people in as part of the solution. We are turning those words into action and working with our partners to make good on that commitment. Moving forward, our organizational leadership needs to reflect our constituencies, our funding should promote shared power with the communities we serve, and our language and actions must work against stereotypes. Together, we hope to examine and restructure our work as individual organizations as well as the work we do with young people and communities.
This collective effort builds on and amplifies the work of many individuals and organizations who have already made progress, and it aims to create a mechanism to ensure that we are all learning and growing together. By working collaboratively to identify and dismantle unjust practices and systems within our organizations and in the work we do with and for young people, we are taking an important step toward change.
To apply the words of Frederick Douglass, the powers that perpetuate racism will “concede nothing without a demand.” We hope you will join us in generating that demand.
Interim President & CEO
America's Promise Alliance