“space for young people to share their experiences”

By Zoe Hjelm, PJALS Intern

               The most impactful experience for me as an intern with Peace and Justice Action League (PJALS) was being the coordinator of the Young Activist Leaders Program (YALP). We as a nation have seen a rise in young people starting to stand up for themselves and what they believe in, and YALP was no exception. This was the youngest cohort that YALP had ever had. Each workshop had new and returning YALPistas (participants), all with varying experience and backgrounds, which allowed for diverse conversation and group dynamics. I was so excited to see young people passionate about social justice coming to workshops, beginning to organize, and problem-solving. I was proud of the YALPistas for fully participating by being engaged, asking questions, and sharing ideas.

               As a coordinator, I learned the importance of follow-up and follow-through. I also got the opportunity to experiment with different ideas for curriculum presentation, slideshows, graphics, and other media in order to promote YALP. As a social worker, my interests are community education and activism. By coordinating and participating in YALP, I acquired knowledge and skills that could help me in my activism and my career. The most influential workshops I attended were on Self-Care with Fitz Fitzpatrick, Gender & Inclusivity in Organizing with Ian Sullivan, and How to Start a Campaign with Liz Moore.

               My proudest moment had to be the Young Activist Forum, though. The main theme that continued to come up during workshops was that the YALPistas, who were mostly middle-school students of color, didn’t feel heard when they voiced their concerns to the adults in their lives. As a result, they were able to brainstorm and come up with the idea of a Young Activist Forum to provide space for young people to share their experiences, meet other young people passionate about social justice, and to participate in collaborative problem-solving. I was super impressed with the recruitment, turnout, facilitation by YALPistas, and overall participation and active learning by those who came. I hope to see everyone again in the community being loud, taking up space, and making change!