By Rachel Rhoades

[Youth Artists for Justice is a 15-week program that combines performing arts and community activism with youth participants at both Young People’s Theatre and the Teen Leadership Council in Boston. In this hybrid/online community-based action research project, youth at each site will have the chance to collaborate in creating original artistic work and critiquing barriers to social justice.]

The Youth Artists for Justice research project has officially begun. I am on the plane from Boston to Toronto after conducting two workshops at the Boch Center with the Teen Leadership Council, which is made up of 18 high schoolers from all throughout Boston.

For our first workshop, I focused on introducing them to many of the political principles and key ideas within activist and resistance movements. This included examples of youth-led and arts-based groups, from two young Indigenous brothers who started the group Earth Guardians in Colorado to speak out for climate justice through music and lawsuits, to young women from the Prerna Girls’ School in Lucknow, India who interviewed survivors of domestic violence and created a performance and petition to confront the issue and push for change.

Some of the youth participants were active in resistance throughout the past years, taking part in the school walkout of over one thousand students marching to the State House in a fight against proposed budget cuts to public education, Black Lives Matter protests, anti-Trump demonstrations, and one young woman who occupied the main economic centre in Hong Kong as part of the Umbrella Revolution in 2014. We discussed various movements and basic social justice terms such as intersectionality, solidarity, radicalism and participatory politics. Finally, the students created tableaux, frozen images with their bodies, to depict their learning from the session.

During the second workshop, the youth engaged in drama exercises and created their own “activating scenes” to depict the ways in which racialized people, particularly youth, are stereotyped and criminalized. This injustice will be the central focus of the content they produce moving forward in the project.

Prior to these workshops, I conducted individual interviews with eight of the Teen Leadership Council members about their experiences, motivations, opinions and hopes around youth resistance in today’s world. Some themes that arose were:

  • Educational inequity
  • Lack of a sense of individual value (voting, voice)
  • Need for a heart and mind connection, open-mindedness and connectedness
  • The need for mass participation in resistance
  • Community-building through resistance- sense of purpose and promise
  • Society messages that young people are making bad decisions, should be in school and not walking out and protesting
  • Impressions of protestors as violent
  • Learning various viewpoints, becoming informed, and seeking truth through social media
  • The need for clear goals and communication of non-violent strategies in protest
  • Sense of urgency and commitment to action against Trump- not hopelessness
  • Attack mode prevalent in society

Here are a few inspiring youth quotes from these interviews that I am eager to put out into the world:

“I want [Trump] to surprise me. I may not believe in his values, but I want him to do great. Not for him, and not for his family. I want him to do great for this country… He’s not gonna be able to do anything that he’s says he’s going to do because- no way. He may be president, but we’re still the people.” – Beyonce (pseudonym created by youth)

“I remember when I was participating in the Black Lives Matter protest at my school and we walked out, a lot of people were saying, ‘You’re young. You don’t know anything,’ but that made me push myself even further ‘cause it’s like, we’re the future. We’re young and the fact that we want to fight hatred with compassion, cruelty with kindness, and that- that’s what motivates me more, every single day to do something. And if I had to be motivated by doing that then yeah- just keep pushing forward because if people are gonna judge me that’s not gonna keep me from doing- for standing for what’s right.” – Lamara (pseudonym created by youth)

I am currently writing an article introducing the Youth Artists for Justice project with an analysis of these first interviews and workshops with the Boston youth for a special issue in Critical Questions in Education called Uncovering Youth Spaces: Activists Voices, Productive, Materialist Methodologies, and Social Inquiry. My piece will be entitled “Ethnodramatic Cultural Production as Resistance with Racialized, Socioeconomically Under-Resourced Youth”, and should be published in the fall of 2017.

Recruitment is going strong in Toronto! In mid-January I will be conducting interviews with youth interested in participating as co-researcher-artists for the project. Our first session will be February 9th. More updates to follow! Keep loving, keep fighting.