By Hannah Arwe
JCUA Teen Programming Coordinator
Hello from Teen Programming! I just finished leading my first Or Tzedek Summer Social Justice Institute and it was an absolute blast! I felt like both a leader and a learner, developing young folks’ capacity for change while also continuing to learn for myself the crucial components of organizing, agitation, and justice.
I really enjoyed getting to work with people and organizations all over the city to create meaningful experiences for our teens. Not only was it a reminder of the incredible work being done in the city of Chicago, but also it was amazing to see how, across the board, organizers and educators came out to support JCUA youth and their desire to act. Interspersed with foundation-laying workshops on root-cause analysis, systems of privilege and oppression, and community organizing, we participated in several actions around Chicago, in order to learn about and support the work already being done. Two of the teens’ favorite activities were registering voters with Chicago Votes and distributing lunches to those in need with Forward Humanity. These actions gave Or Tzedek participants the opportunity to immerse themselves in Chicago’s culture, build their communication skills, and critically analyze the structures of power that govern society. We were also able to volunteer with Growing Home, Inc., Chicago’s only USDA certified organic urban farm in the city limits. While harvesting potatoes, we learned about the important work Growing Home is doing to provide healthy, affordable food and jobs to the South Side communities of Chicago.
One of the biggest issues we touched upon in this summer’s program was systemic racism. Through workshops on privilege and identity, conversations about gun violence, criminal justice reform, and immigration, an anti-racist walking tour of Hyde Park, and a visit to the Broadview Detention Center Vigil, the teens were eager to engage each other and our partners in conversation about historic racial divides, harmful political policies, and key points of contention in Jewish allyship. To end our time together, we were lucky enough to participate in a commemorative march, festival, and Shabbaton to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Chicago Freedom Movement’s legacy. It was a meaningful way to show the juxtaposition of seeing the world as it is, and imagining the world as it should be.
As I sit back and reflect on the summer, I cannot stop returning to the reason that I got involved in social justice work with young people in the first place: youth are enthusiastic, resilient, and inspirational. They capture the restless energy of social justice work, and are eager to do what needs doing. Every night, without my help, they engaged in intense and difficult conversations about race, class, gender, and politics. Every day they asked as many tough questions as they could think of. During discussions and workshops I found myself pulling back again and again because the teens could carry their learning just fine without me. It was a humbling experience. As I wrap up Or Tzedek by writing thank you notes to our partners, I am realizing the need to thank my teens most of all, for their willingness to be vulnerable, their comfort with discomfort, and their dedication to seeking justice.