Spotlight: Youth Voice on Social Issues

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff, Youth Powerpoint, and Southern Poverty Law CenterYouth-Led AALEAD Workshop

If anyone has ever asked “I wonder how this election impacts our youth,” a glimpse into the answer was shown last Wednesday at Einstein High School. Current sophomore AALEAD members Katherine, Shadia, and Vincent led a workshop titled “Recent Repercussions [of the 2016 Presidential Election].” They led their peers through activities centering on identity: the recent hate crimes committed against people of marginalized identities, and how to respond to instances of violence and hate with love and support. If their workshop tells us one thing, it is that our youth are not only thinking about these issues, but they are feeling the reverberations of the negative actions taken against people of their own identities, and that they are creating ways to respond to keep their community members and themselves safe. Shadia, one of the youth leaders of this workshop, shared about her investment in the topic saying, “I care about this topic because it’s real and it’s happening to people. It’s very personal to me since I am Muslim, and I think it can be personal for other people, too.  It’s important for everyone to know what is going on and what they can do to help. I hope the biggest take-away for people is to be an upstander.”

SPLC Graphic

AALEADers started the day off with shout outs, an icebreaker activity which gave each participant a chance to give props (or a shout out) to something about their identity. People “shouted out” parts of their racial, ethnic, religious and gender identities, highlighting the multiple identities that each youth holds, and hinting at how the post-election climate might be affecting them. Next, Katherine, Shadia, and Vincent led their peers through a presentation, detailing how multiple groups have been targeted in the past month. They also focused on what it means to be an “upstander,” or someone who intervenes in a negative interaction (see their presentation slide on “Upstanders” below). In closing, our AALEADers applied what they learned to a relevant post-election hate-crime scenario. In small groups, participants discussed their scenario and created a skit demonstrating the safest and most effective course of action to respond as an upstander.

AALEAD Youth Workshop


AALEAD Youth Presentation









One youth leader, Vincent, shared that through planning this workshop he “learned about all of the different hate crimes that are happening after the election. I didn’t know all of the things that were going on. Now, I feel much more informed to go out and do something about it.” Youth throughout the day expressed surprise, upset, and disbelief at some of the hate crimes being perpetrated against people of color and various faiths. Giving space for our AALEAD youth to choose their own workshops topics means that the content is relevant to them. Many youth participating in the workshop echoed Vincent’s sentiments, feeling at once upset and empowered to make changes to what’s going on in the world.

As we see in AALEAD programs time and time again, when given the space to create and explore, young people are passionate about what is going on in the world around them and have powerful ideas for how to address these issues. Some of our biggest roles as youth workers (and I say that to mean anyone who ever has the opportunity to support a young person) is to create space for, listen to, and provide tools to young folks so that they can create based on their expertise and knowledge; it is acknowledging that the idea that it is our job as youth workers to give young people a voice is a misconception. Rather, it is knowing that young people have always had voices, all we need to give them is our attention and support.

Katherine, our third and final leader, wanted to leave everyone with this message: “Be an upstander because you never know what kind of difference you can make for someone by standing up and helping them.”





@splcenter. “Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Southern Poverty Law Center, 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

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