Research shows that young people involved in organizing think more critically about their own academic trajectories, develop strong motivation to succeed in school and therefore flourish academically and are more likely to attend college than other youth.
There is a growing interest in how youth organizing supports holistic health and well-being through healing centered engagement, an innovative, holistic approach to addressing trauma and mental health in marginalized communities.
Shawn Ginwright Ph.D.
There is exciting new evidence that youth organizing is a powerful way of promoting social-emotional learning and other critical 21st century competencies that are strong predictors of future success in young people.
Stronger earnings and employment histories
Deeper connection to school and therefore higher graduation rates
Improved academic performance
Reduced involvement with school discipline
Better mental health overall
Ability to collaborate
Access to personal creativity
Flexibility of thinking
Source: Kautz, T., Heckman, J., Diris, R., ter Weel, B., & Borghans, L. (2014). Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and NonCognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success. NBER Working Paper No. 20749.
Youth Organizing stands apart from other approaches that support low-income young people and young people of color to thrive.
First, youth organizing practices, youth supports and services are woven together into a distinct organizational culture that is contextually and culturally relevant to low-income youth of color, acknowledging and confronting issues of racial, gender, class and sexual oppression. While different in communities across the country, youth organizing groups share an organizational culture that is politically conscious, inclusive and affirming, supported by staff representing diverse identities and lived experiences. This organizational culture is also a key reason that youth organizing groups reach the most marginalized young people.
Adapted from Watts, R., Kirshner, B., Govan, R., & Fernandez, J. (2017). Powerful Youth, Powerful Communities: An International Study of Youth Organizing.
At the same, time, through community organizing, young people develop skills, take action and change those very systems, policies and institutions that oppress their individual lives and the well-being of communities. This is a “transformational social involvement” that builds critical consciousness and individual power and links young people’s academic success, resilience and well-being to a broader collective political and community empowerment agenda.
Addressing the conditions impacting young people of color requires both individual healing and altering the structural inequities plaguing whole communities. Youth organizing supports these two types of change to happen simultaneously. Individual and community level changes fuel each other and create a cycle of lasting transformation.
I started getting more involved with United Students and became more active, claimed my voice, and connected systems to oppression and why certain outcomes were happening in my community; they were not the fault of my community, but the fault of larger systems – institutional systems that were failing us. My critical consciousness expanded, that internal hatred started to leave, and I began to develop and blossom into an activist, a warrior, and a critical thinker. I took that with me all the way to college as well. I went to UC San Diego and started organizing there, using the skills that I was exposed to, and taking it wherever I wanted to organize.