Why I Organize
This blog was originally posted by Our Kids. View the original publication here.
If you’ve ever attended a public school, I doubt you’d call it perfect. I’m Naja and I’m a product of Detroit’s public school system. I know firsthand what it’s like to be in a class of 45, with 40 desks to sit at, 30 textbooks (often decades old), and a seemingly permanent substitute teacher. I know what it’s like to open a math book to do homework, only to have the page I need ripped out. I know how frustrating it is to call a friend for clarity on material, only to realize they’re having the same problem, and it isn’t either of our faults. I know how difficult it is to learn science in a classroom full of students wearing coats and hats because the school can’t afford to fix the heating. I know how it feels for your school to permanently close without warning, to then be forced to travel an hour to a new school, sitting three to a seat on a hot school bus every day. Like I said, public schools aren’t perfect, and Detroit’s system is no different.
Like many students, I used to think that the state of Detroit’s public school system (DPSCD) was unchangeable—that I would just have to deal with it. But then I heard of an organization called 482Forward, a citywide education organizing network in Detroit, made up of neighborhood organizations, parents, and youth. 482Forward is committed to ensuring that all Detroit children have access to an excellent education, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. I saw their slogan, “nothing about us, without us” as my opportunity to have my struggles heard, and be an active part of the solution. I was tired of doing homework only to find out that our teacher would no longer be teaching us, of waking up at five in the morning to spend two hours on the city bus to get to high school, and of feeling hopeless. I wanted to make our schools as accessible and high-quality as suburban schools. I was ready to fight.
482Forward is comprised of action teams and committees, who all dedicate their organizing toward specific education issues
within their interests and/or neighborhoods. We fight to bring education justice to Detroit schools. The action team I organize with is called 482Youth, and is made up of Detroit middle and high school students who are directly affected by problems within the district. In this collective, we work to create the change we want to see in our schools, for ourselves, our peers, and those yet to come. We’re trained throughout the year, often by peer and alumni members, on different organizing methods and skills. We’re then tasked with choosing an issue to organize around, and take action on, every year.
Now, I’ve used the word “organizing” a lot, and you may be wondering what I’m saying we actually do. It’s not exactly what you do with your school supplies or your bedroom, but similar!
In 482Youth, we define Organizing as:
The process of taking the resources you have, people who have common struggles, to create the power you need, like people, wealth, or status, to win the change you want, as in equality or equity.
Community organizing is just identifying issues in your community, thinking of solutions, and gathering enough support to enact them. This could mean challenging the existing authority; public protesting or rallying, going door to door, or speaking to a crowd to get attention for your cause.
Education organizing, the specific type that interests me, refers to the actions of members of marginalized communities to ensure equity in schools by building power. 482Forward, with the help of parents, students, educators, and community members, is doing that by building power to make systemic change. At 482Forward, we believe those who are most affected by the problem should help create the solution, and we do that by ensuring that parents and students drive the movement.
Keep in mind, working to create change means working within your own community, or being an ally to those impacted, not taking over their campaigns for change. Support will always be needed, and it’s important to exercise your right to create change in our democracy.
Like one time, our youth held an art showcase to show the lack of resources in our schools. Art like this was created by youth, and the entire event was planned and facilitated by our youth.
Organizing can be challenging, but it provides you with the opportunity to positively impact your community and the people in it. If you want to make change, no matter how small, organizing is the first step in creating it yourself—or at least being part of the process.
So, there’s the gist of 482Forward, and why I got involved. This blog will be dedicated to stories of student organizers like me, experiencing the injustices of public education in Detroit, and committed to demanding change until it happens. For more information on 482Forward, check out our website, 482forward.org.
Until next time,