How to Help Young People Fight Racial Inequality

Resources to engage the next generation of change-makers.

Posted Jun 23, 2020

Lopolo/DepositPhotos
Source: Lopolo/DepositPhotos

Conversation and action about racism and inequality go to the roots of human integrity. What values are young people taught by families, schools, and communities? How do they learn to live those values in the world?

The idea of integrity is rooted in centuries of moral philosophy and ethics. From a psychological perspective, Carl Rogers described integrity as a form of “congruence,” as a time when a person’s feelings “are available to him, available to his awareness, and he is able to live these feelings, be them, and is able to communicate them if appropriate” (Rogers, 1961).

Psychological integrity is nurtured in young people when they are recognized for displaying consistency in their words and actions, particularly during times of challenge; being true to themselves; and showing moral/ethical behaviors, like honesty and moral courage.

The path to integrity involves understanding what racial equity means, why people value the principles of equality and justice, and how to recognize implicit bias.

What Is Racial Equity?

Racial equity is a multifaceted concept that embraces the goal of eliminating inequitable life outcomes based on a person’s race. To achieve this goal, society must affect systemic change, including in the following areas:

  • The unequal distribution of resources that can be predicted by race
  • The false narrative that Black and Brown people are less than White people
  • The unfair, discriminatory structures and processes inherent in societal institutions like the criminal justice, health care, and educational systems.
  • The false narrative that diversity weakens rather than strengthens society

What is Education’s Role in Teaching Racial Equality?

To be certain, education plays a critical role in ensuring that children and families, regardless of race or economic differences, have equal opportunities to achieve their goals. Historically, the goal of educational equity has been to raise academic performance levels and graduation rates to match those of more privileged children.

But educational equity is not enough. Children must also have developmental equity, the right to the relationships and experiences that help them thrive in school and throughout life. Because of the systemic issues listed above, many children of color do not have the experiences that are known to build core inner strengths that sustain human flourishing.

In Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, former Yale professor William Deresiewicz blames schools for failing to instill the values that led prior generations of Americans to work toward the betterment of society. He sees today’s privileged students as “sheep” who follow prescribed pathways to material, academic, and self-success, while ignoring the needs of those around them. Deresiewicz convinces us that the goal of education should always be “to leverage learning as an agent of social change — the kind of objective that makes leadership and citizenship into something more than pretty words.”

Engage Youth in Conversations

Diverse middle and high school youth, from those living in affluence to those living in poverty, must be given opportunities to talk about racial equality with each other as well as with parents, teachers, and public officials. When youth take part in dialogue; walk together in peaceful protests; problem-solve in their local communities; and add their voices to the solutions, they are no longer sheep. They are formidable leaders.

Will the death of George Floyd be a turning point that changes the shameful practices of systemic racism in America? There is more hope today than there has been in many years. In fact, this may be an educator’s golden opportunity to transform current anger into real learning for American youth.

Resources are available to support young people in their quest for meaning and action. The following organizations offer much guidance and inspiration. The tools provided can help students find their voices in meaningful, nonviolent, artistic, and powerful ways. Your efforts as an educator, parent, or after-school program leader may turn into one of the greatest civics lesson of the 21st century.

Resources for Teachers, Parents and Youth Program Leaders

CENTER FOR RACIAL JUSTICE IN EDUCATION

The Center for Racial Justice in Education offers trainings, consultation, and in-depth partnerships to educators, schools, and educational organizations to want to advance racial equality and racial justice. The Center has a document filled with resources for talking with kids about race, racism, and racialized violence.

DESIGN FOR CHANGE USA

Design for Change USA gives educators and adult leaders the tools to support student-driven social impact by helping students investigate social issues like racial inequality, brainstorm solutions, develop action plans, and implement their ideas.

EMBRACERACE

EmbraceRace is a multiracial community of parents, teachers, experts, and other caring adults that support each other to meet the challenges that race poses to children, families, and communities.

GLOBAL CITIZEN

The mission of Global Citizen is to build a movement of 100M action-taking global citizens to help end extreme poverty by 2030. Highly committed to racial equality, they have an excellent article: 7 Ways You Can Step Up for Racial Justice Right Now.

HIGHLANDER RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER

Highlander Center is a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement-building in Appalachia and the South. They work for justice, equality, and sustainability — helping people learn to shape their own destinies.

NATIONAL COALITION FOR DIALOGUE & DELIBERATION

The NCDD is an excellent resource center, providing a dialogue and deliberation process that helps people come together across differences to tackle societal challenges. Thousands of resources are available on their website, including many for young people wishing to talk about racial equality

OTHERING & BELONGING INSTITUTE

The Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley provides news, research reports, videos, and other educational materials developed to advance the work of inclusion and belonging for all people.

RACE FORWARD

Race Forward catalyzes movement building for racial equality and justice in partnership with communities. Their website has excellent reports, research, and tools that can be used by teachers and students.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

A cooperative process aimed at healing those affected by the criminal justice system, restorative justice is a concept gaining momentum worldwide. Edutopia also maintains an excellent list of resources for using restorative justice in schools.

THE FREECHILD PROJECT

The FreeChild Project provides tools, training, and technical assistance to help create new roles for young people throughout society. They have an amazing collection of resources to help young people create social change.

TEEN EMPOWERMENT

The Teen Empowerment program in Boston inspires young people and the adults who work with them, to think deeply about the most difficult social problems and provides tools to create positive change.

YOUTH ACT!—A PROGRAM OF STREETLAW

The Youth Act!® program teaches youth how to advocate for meaningful change in their communities using the legal advocacy process as a guide.

YOUTH SPEAKS

Youth Speaks inspires young artists and visionary activists through written and oral literacies. They challenge youth to find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of social change.

Youth Activism in the 21st Century

What will set today’s youth apart from the “sheep” to which Deresiewicz referred is leadership by adults who encourage youth to speak truth to power, help them find non-violent ways to express their feelings and ideas, and support them as they become part of the solution.

In my book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizen for a New Generation, diverse young people share their stories of activism, describe how adults taught them integrity and other internal strengths, and how they turned their values into action. Through positive youth activism, students change the way they see themselves and the world around them. They see how they can have a lasting and positive impact on society.

Armed with knowledge, awareness, skills, and a desire for change, today’s youth can and will make their mark on racial equality.

References

Rogers, C.R. (1961) On becoming a person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin, p. 61.