Esther Guerrero’s first year of high school was a time of awareness and frustration for her.
Over the years, she attended various educational institutions in Detroit and its suburbs, including public, charter and Catholic schools. In 2017, GuerreroEsther guerrero
(Photograph Lytzy Lupercio) started at Western International High School in southwest Detroit, but was disrupted by the educational disparities she and her classmates faced.
“Western, while it was closer to home, was worse [in terms of educational resources] than what I had experienced in other schools, and it really moved me to know that it was because of the communities that live here.
Recognizing what she was going through, a classmate named Bernie recommended that she get involved with a local nonprofit called Congress of Communities (CoC). The organization sponsors a Youth Council which offers a mix of leadership training, civic education and social justice programs, and academic support.
Guerrero, who is now a senior at Wayne State, joined the board, and it was exactly what she needed during a difficult time in her life. Participating in the group gave her the opportunity to address issues such as educational inequality and discrimination she had faced as a young Latina and to learn more about how they relate to the developments. historical and current events.
“I was angry, really angry, about certain things, and it was a space where I could not only talk about it, but also dissect it, dig deeper: why is it like that? Guerrero said. “I always say, ‘The Congress of Communities has really changed my life.’ I don’t know where I would be if I had never received the invitation to join the Youth Council.
Supporting the Youth of Southwest Detroit
CoC was founded in 2006, with the goal of bringing together residents of various neighborhoods in southwest Detroit. Community organizing has always been a top priority for the group, and although it has a variety of different goals –CoC Youth helps build a community garden including the work of organizing parents and combating gentrification – youth development work has long been an important part of its mission.
Earlier this year, the organization received a Generator Z grant of $ 47,000 to host youth-led racial and social justice training sessions at its soon-to-be-completed youth-focused community center. This new work, however, builds on the successes of the CoC Youth Council.
The Youth Council is made up of an annual cohort of 12 to 15 Latinx teens who live or attend school in southwest Detroit. Youth on the board participate in a 12-month program focused on leadership development, civic engagement, Latinx history and culture, mentoring, and educational justice. Almost all of the young people who participated in the council went on to attend college or business school, and many of them received scholarships at prestigious institutions like Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan.
Board members begin their year by attending the Summer Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity, held in partnership with the University of Michigan. This program brings together a cross-cultural group of teens from the Detroit metro area to learn about and discuss issues of racial and social justice and develop an understanding of power, privilege and oppression.
“They get the basis of their racial and social justice education there,” says Lindsey Matson, a community organizer for the Congress of Communities who helps coordinate the Youth Council. “Then they come back to southwest Detroit. And then implement some kind of project to fight segregation or some other kind of social problem in southwest Detroit. ”
The young people involved in the Youth Council participate in determining the group’s program, in particular the annual project which is the centerpiece of its work. Last year’s Youth Council cohort put together a series of podcasts for their project, including one that featured an interview with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Another contingent organized a trip to Washington DC to advocate for the DREAM Act.
As part of the 2017-18 cohort, Guerrero helped create a program called Nuestro Futuro, which provides local high school students with close, peer-to-peer mentorship focused on college and career preparation. Current college and trade school students help teens with applications and also come up with strategies for dealing with issues like stress and racism on campus.
Nuestro Futuro began as a six-week program where teens met once a week with their mentors and heard guest speakers on topics related to higher education. After this period, the COC decided to continue this work in the form of a drop-in session once a month linked to an action component of the Youth Council alumni.
“The students at Nuestro Futuro always ask me for help, asking, who do I go to for financial aid or mental health help at Wayne State University? “And I have access to these people, through networking,” Guerrero explains. “It’s like a chain now. It touched me and now I am able to impact other people and those people will be able to impact other people.
CoC youth help out at a community meetingBroaden the opportunities
While CoC definitely plans to continue working with its Youth Council, the organization is excited about the opportunity offered by its recent Generator Z grant to expand its programming for youth. Maria Salinas, Founder and Executive Director of the Congress of Communities, believes the timing for the grant is excellent, as it follows a five-month training course on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) with the young people, staff, board. and stakeholders. In addition, as a result of this course, CoC incorporated new rules based on REDI’s practices into its organizational statutes.
“CoC can now integrate the voice, experience and vision of young people for a better future,” says Salinas. “Understanding the issues of racial equity, inequity and social justice in Detroit and nationally, young people can be our champions in holding adults accountable for dealing with change and starting to bridge this divide between different people. cultures and races through conversations, healing practices and tools. “
CoC kick-started those efforts this summer, co-hosting a Latinx history class for high school and incoming students. The five-week program, called “Somos,” involved students from across the country, who came together via an online teleconference to learn more about the history, activism, culture of Latinx, and to meet with fellow students. Latinx scholars, activists and artists. About 20 students completed this course, and several of the event coordinators plan to do more Latinx history workshops with CoC in the future.
Matson sees the new racial and social justice training funded by Generator Z as an expansion of similar work being done by the CoC Youth Council.
“The Youth Council is specifically a Latinx council,” explains Matson. “This project will not have specific demographics, but will also not hesitate to talk about race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and class.”
There is no requirement to live in Southwest Detroit, although attendees should expect the focus to be on the neighborhood. Originally, CoC planned to hold the trainings at its new youth-run community center, which is slated to open later this fall. Complications with COVID, however, suggest they will take place virtually – like this year’s Youth Council meetings – until the nonprofit feels it is safe to do so. hold in person.
Like the center itself, the direction of the new trainings funded by Generator Z will be determined by the young people involved in CoC, who will receive stipends to participate in the project. A group has already met at the end of August to discuss the direction of the programming. While planning is still ongoing, proposals currently include a social justice book club, mental health / personal care / wellness workshops, political and civic training, and a revamped Nuestro Futuro program.
For those interested in learning more about this and other CoC programs, Matson suggests people check their posts online for more details.
“We’re very active on Facebook and Instagram, so follow us on social media if that sounds interesting to you,” she says. “Our grand opening of the house is approaching, and we are also doing a lot of social justice and political education on social media.”
Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. This is made possible thanks to funding from the Kresge Foundation.