Showing Up! For Youth, For Each Other and For Racial Justice

Detroit and the rest of the nation are reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, a history of systemic racial injustice, the senseless murders of Black individuals at the hands of the police– and its inequitable toll on people of color ¾ physically, mentally, spiritually and economically ¾ that have caused our nation’s racial crisis to boil over into the streets. Young people are showing up and want to create change. In these circumstances, how do we show up for them? How do provide support and encouragement?

More than 100 leaders gathered for a live video conference on June 5 to explore the role of community-based organizations in supporting Detroit’s youth during the nation’s current tumultuous times,  the pursuit of racial justice and the fight against police brutality. The event, Showing Up! For Youth, For Each Other and For Racial Justice, was held by Connect Detroit in partnership with the Youth Development Resource and was attended by Detroit-area nonprofit organization employees, educators and leaders in government who work directly with youth.

The discussion commenced with the moderator asking participants to share one thing they have done this week for racial justice; the question allowed participants to open their minds and to focus on the conversation. Answers varied from making donations to nonprofit organizations like Black Lives Matter to the signing of petitions and doing research, as well as to having tough conversations with friends and family.

After the introduction, group agreements for the conference were laid out: don’t make assumptions about others’ silence; be vulnerable; understand that this is a safe space with confidentiality expected; acknowledge that everyone is experiencing stress at different levels. Attendees were also told they had the option to leave the conversation if they felt uncomfortable. Participants were then split up into breakout groups of about 10 people to discuss prepared questions, such as these: How are you showing up for the youth you serve? How have current events affected the youth you serve? What have you heard from young people about their feelings and their successes or failures?

Following this session, attendees reconvened to discuss their answers with the complete group. The leaders’ insights as to youths’ current struggles, as well as their suggestions for helping these young people, include that Detroit’s youth are angry, they feel numb and they believe that change is necessary. Leaders’ suggested a good first step is simply asking the youth what they need and then listening to their answers before offering resources and suggestions. Having the youth keep journals, and providing them with mental health resources and facilitating group discussions were also suggestions of aid.

Now more than ever, youth seem eager to engage in activism and will no longer accept being placated politically. From protests to petitions, young people are making their voices heard. Leaders believe they should continue to encourage this activism and to help young people identify actions that feel authentic to them. Leaders emphasized the importance of connecting young people to resources, blogs and other support networks, as well as outfitting them with appropriate language surrounding these topics. Leaders also believe that implementing the history of civil rights, of role models and of social justice within the teaching and curricula of organizations working with youth is crucial.

Also during the breakout session:

In a thoughtful conversation, white group members expressed their struggles to be strong allies for the Black and Brown youth they support. In response, Black participants encouraged their white colleagues to focus on listening to and amplifying Black voices. Black participants also asked their white colleagues to speak up in their defense when they hear microaggressions or hateful rhetoric and encouraged white people to talk to at least one other white person in their family or friend group about what is going on nationally and how to be a better ally/supporter of Black and Brown people.

Additionally, a short, powerful video presenting the difference between allies and

co-conspirators was shown, which seemed to make an impact on viewers of all backgrounds. The video explored how change is made when allies take real action to stand against racism in this country, becoming co-conspirators. The speaker emphasized that reading books and having conversations doesn’t spark change but that taking action will. A reflection on the video provided the revelation that the current national protests are a call to action for allies to become co-conspirators in standing up for the Black community.

As the conference wrapped up, participants joined in a breathing exercise to destress before leaving the meeting.

The Showing Up! For Youth, For Each Other and For Racial Justice conference provided an important day of conversation among Detroit-area nonprofit organization employees, educators and leaders in government, which was at times emotional and uncomfortable. The conclusion was that conversations about racial justice, youth activism and supportive alliances are never easy but are always necessary. There was much agreement about the need to work together to make progress. As leaders of nonprofit organizations supporting Black youth, participants agreed that the role of nonprofit organizations in these uncharted times is essential and they expressed being more committed than ever to provide support to Detroit’s youth to allow them to be themselves and succeed.

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