High school and middle school student leaders from throughout San Francisco packed the cafeteria at June Jordan School for Equity (JJSE) Wednesday night to participate in a Youth Town Hall organized by Coleman Advocates. The Town Hall was part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign 8th Annual Week of Action Against School Pushout.
Youth Town Hall participants talked about what motivates them to take a stand in their schools and communities and discussed strategies for getting more youth involved in social change and civic engagement efforts. There were small group discussions about public education reform, the criminalization of youth, youth voter engagement, and other issues.
A major takeaway from the event was that young people (in addition to being directly impacted by regressive policies and federally sanctioned racism) are very emotionally affected by everything going on in the country right now and are highly motivated to take action. From students too young to vote but volunteering to register their older peers to youth taking to the streets to demand health care as a human right, San Francisco young people are leading the change so desperately needed in our city, state, and country.
The Town Hall was specifically dedicated to highlighting the challenges faced by Black students and families in SFUSD and lifting up Black youth leadership. Statewide data shows that San Francisco currently has the worst performance scores for Black students of any county in California. Coleman gave a presentation about the status of school discipline reforms and shared new data revealing continued disproportionate suspensions of Black students.
Another major theme of discussions was the criminalization of youth of color and what this looks like in our schools and neighborhoods. From being kicked out of the classroom for questioning the accuracy of a lesson to being met by a row of police cars as you enter and exit school every morning and afternoon, to being followed by security every time you enter a local store, Town Hall participants described days filled with near-constant monitoring and harassment and schools that sometimes feel more like prisons than places of learning.
We have a LOT of work ahead of us to achieve equity in our schools and to end the school-to-prison pipeline. We know we can’t achieve our ambitious systems change agenda alone and so we will continue to invest in gatherings like these to support collaboration and coalition building. A conversation about next steps ended with a group commitment to organize a youth organizing/civic engagement summit in the Spring and then annual or twice annual convenings, ongoing.
Our organizations may serve different communities or focus on different issues but it is clear that we all share a common vision and hope for a San Francisco with more justice and opportunity for all. And we are all clear that the youth will be leading the way.
In the words of Bay Area community organizer Rachel Jackson: “Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.”
Yours in struggle,
p.s. Thanks to every young person that took time out of your busy schedule to join us and grace us with your wisdom Wednesday! Special shout outs to JJSE, Chinese Progressive Association, Five Elements, Youth Commission, Causa Justa/Just Cause, and the Student Advisory Council for your leadership and support.