Wiretap's "Top Youth Activism Victories of 2009"

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Youth Together was named in two of the top youth activism victories of 2009!  We’d like to thank the youth who have taken the lead and instituted change and social justice in our communities.

Richmond, Calif. Students Learn From Tragedy

The horrific news of a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly gang-raped outside of her homecoming dance at Richmond High School in Northern California shocked millions. What made it even worse were reports that the attack was witnessed by over a dozen people who, over the course of two hours, allegedly took photos and joined the attack, but failed to intervene or call police.

In the weeks that followed, Richmond High students faced intense media scrutiny. The students, most of whom are working class and of color, were called “animals” and “monsters” by several outraged media observers.

Students acted quickly. With the help of campus-based organizations like Youth Together, a Bay Area education reform organization, hundreds of dedicated students and teachers mobilized candlelight vigils and financial support funds to help the victim recover.

“Some people think Richmond doesn’t care, but would we all be out here if nobody cared?” said one student leader at a school rally held shortly after the attack.

Students and activists are also developing gender violence trainings to be added into the school’s permanent curriculum. By the end of the training, organizers hope that students will examine how they perpetuate violence in their own lives, know how to respond to a bystander and become certified anti-violence trainers.

Video:

Richmond High Responds to Homecoming Rape

Students Win Higher Education Standards4209488346_0cb5821d6f_o

Tracking. It’s a term used to describe the ugly practice in American public education of placing students in different academic settings based on ability. Score low on a standardized high school entrance test and a student might be given only remedial and non-rigorous classes, which ultimately can limit their college choices. Californians for Justice (CFJ), a grassroots statewide youth organizing non-profit working for educational and racial justice in public schools, has been fighting for all students’ rights to the A-G course sequence required for admittance at California State and University of California system colleges and universities.

In June 2009, CFJ scored a major victory in Oakland, Calif. when the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) joined San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego districts in making A-G courses the standard curriculum for all students.

“An A-G curriculum will allow more Oakland students to be eligible for university,” says CFJ Communication Director Paul Tran. “It will lessen student tracking, which is often based on racial and ethnic stereotyping, and follows the will of Oakland parents and students who stated in many surveys that they were interested in attending college.” Students played a lead role in achieving the new standards, which take effect in the fall of 2012.

According to CJF Executive Director Jeremy Lahoud, the “A-G for All” campaign involved student leaders from CFJ, Youth in Focus, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA), Youth Together, and other youth organizations who worked with OUSD’s Meaningful Student Engagement initiative and Education Trust-West to conduct action research on the issue of college access and readiness. Student leaders presented their findings and demands to the OUSD school board prior the board’s vote on the A-G resolution.

In one crucial confrontation, Oakland High School senior Cecilia Lopez made her demands known when a skeptical retired teacher and school board meeting regular said A-G would fail. “We are an economically challenged urban community,” Lopez said. “If you’re saying that the classes are going to be too hard, that means you don’t believe. We’re not asking for more counselors, we’re asking for a counseling system. If we have A-G, it’s not whether we can do it or not, it’s whether the adults are willing to support us.” The school board agreed with Lopez and A-G passed. Now CFJ hopes to bring Fresno and other school districts in California on board.

Lahoud believes the A-G campaign victory in Oakland will build momentum for a statewide and national movement that demands that all students, especially low-income students of color, receive an education that fully prepares them for college, careers and civic participation. “All students deserve the right to chose their path after high school and deserve the curriculum, qualified teachers, supports and resources to get there,” says Lahoud. “CFJ is part of a new national alliance, the Alliance for Educational Justice, that demands college and career preparation for all students, regardless of race, income or immigration status, and will be part of launching a national campaign in 2010 to ensure that this demand is part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

With California students mobilized from Sacramento to Long Beach, it seems likely that CFJ’s efforts will only blossom further.

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