By Tyvon Hewitt, AmeriCorps member in LAYC’s education team
Some of us youth at LAYC grew up without enough of something. Maybe it was food, maybe it was money, and maybe it was time with our parents. Many of these issues are familiar to kids who grow up in low-income families. But, do we know why people like us and our families are poor in the first place?
I learned how to answer this simple yet profound question in the Undoing Racism training, a two-day experience taught by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Many of us, myself included, are taught that people are poor because we make bad decisions, we don’t know how to handle our money, or we have too many kids. In the Undoing Racism training, I learned that some people are poor because the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within our society is unfair. Within our communities, there is the practice of redlining by banks and real estate firms and gentrification. Schools in poor communities may hire under-qualified teachers and use biased standardized tests that leave many children of color behind. Some schools favor students from white, wealthy families or employ racial stereotyping in identifying students for gifted and talented programs. These unfair systems keep wealthy people wealthy, and poor people poor.
At LAYC, many staff and some youth have taken the Undoing Racism training. Some of us came out of the training feeling very inspired: what we can do about how unfair our world is? Since that time, we created the Community Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE) staff committee. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group of LAYC staff who envision a society where race does not determine a youth’s success and well-being, and we work to create organizational and structural change with staff, youth, and community members.
We’re looking forward to bringing a new opportunity for LAYC staff to engage in racial justice advocacy, which we do in a number of ways. First, we host short trainings to support staff members to incorporate racial justice into their programs. With the recent shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, it is critical to talk about racial equity and social justice issues in our programs. We also put on cultural events throughout the year, including to celebrate Black History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Eid al-Fitr for the end of Ramadan. We also plan to get more staff to attend the Undoing Racism training and host other cultural celebrations, giving youth and staff as well as the local community access to different cultures and experiences. Finally, we are creating a youth-powered advisory group to both advise LAYC programs and be anti-racist advocates and community organizers.
I joined CORE so that I could be on the ground implementing change throughout the community with like-minded individuals. It is my firm belief that, as the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”