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In Defense of Youth Organizing

01/13/2020

As a child, you learn to take responsibility for your mistakes. Whether this means owning up to spilling that glass of milk or for ripping your older sister’s favorite t-shirt, it’s one of the most valuable and necessary lessons everyone should receive, and one that should be taken to adulthood. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

From my experience of working with different school leaders, many are either unaware, or unwilling to admit how the decisions they’ve made have negatively impacted the students, parents, and teachers that rely on them in their schools.  I’ve had many meetings with my school’s administration and district leadership, and so far, many of the conversations revolved around why the community’s complaints and criticisms are inadequate. Instead of being listened to, we are often berated about how ungrateful we are and urged to count our blessings for being able to go to school. This is very specific to my school, since the kids in Yemen (the home country for most of my peers at Universal Academy) don’t have this privilege. 

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Imposter Syndrome

12/19/2019

I’m unconventional, at least by my neighborhood’s standards. 

My tight knit Yemeni community stresses the benefit of staying silent. You can’t get in trouble, I’m constantly told, if you don't speak up.  Sometimes I think this stems from our deep roots in a homeland that lacks trust in authority. That was another lesson I grew up with; if you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed.

As a child, these warnings were drilled into my head. I, like all of the other boys and girls I grew up with, was expected to subconsciously nod and follow these standards in fear of being a social pariah. I don't fault my community for believing what they do; it’s how they’ve survived in America for decades-- and it’s all they know. But because of this, not many have ventured out of the community, so there’s been a lack of American-Yemeni representation throughout the media. Because our issues and concerns aren’t often voiced, they aren’t ever really solved. 

I, on the other hand, was never any good at conforming, and could see the long standing implications of my community’s way of living. I decided to throw caution to the wind and follow my passion of becoming a journalist, a career that directly goes against all of my community’s preachings. 

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12/19/2019

According to the state of Michigan, my high school education did not matter to them, because it wasn’t a right. 

It didn’t matter when I spent my first semester of freshman year without a French teacher. 

Or when I spent my entire sophomore year without an English teacher. Or all the times I had to share books with anywhere from 2-4 other students because we didn’t have enough. 

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12/10/2019

A decade and three years ago, on a street corner I pass daily en route to school, stood a flush-faced pig-tailed girl, with her mouth wide open, holding a tambourine far too big for her hands . She was mid chant.  I know this because I was that girl, and because my mom shows that moment captured by a disposable Family Dollar camera to anyone (and everyone) she can.   It was crowded, where dozens of people brought together by a common goal shouted in different languages and dialects. In moments like this, claustrophobia is ignored, overridden by the urgency of our shared struggles

I don’t remember much from that day besides short flashbacks...little memories pieced together to create my first exposure to organizing. My older brother pulled me closer to his side, and away from a journalist’s onslaught of questions.  My grandfather, or Gado as I refer to him, held up a sign, shouting in his perfectly broken English, words I’m still not sure he understood.  As day transcends to night, and the news stations’ busses finally drive away, we continued to hold our ground. By this time, I had lost my voice from the hours-long chanting, and listening to my sister’s scratchy voice beside me asking my mom what time we were going home. I knew I wasn’t the only one.  Then, I had thought we were participating in some sort of parade. I didn’t know the severity of my reality. What I did know was to keep shaking my tambourine, and to keep shouting “Save my school!” until my throat was raw. I did it smiling all the time.

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10/29/2019

Last year, my youth group, 482Youth, surveyed students and teachers from Detroit. We wanted to know the biggest issue they thought they faced in their schools. The number one answer, out of all 700 surveys, was a lack of resources--something Wally has already informed you all pretty well on. As you probably know there aren’t enough books, desks, teachers, counselors, and other school necessities in our schools. But there’s one aspect that we haven’t covered when it comes to lacking the resources we need: overcrowded classroomsSeveral studies have shown that large class sizes have a negative impact on student achievement, can cause a higher rate of discipline problems, and make it harder on teachers, often causing much unnecessary stress.

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10/25/2019

Check out the second vlog by Naja Nile from the 482Youth group of 482Forward "Betsy DeVos Protest" about the Betsy DeVos protest while she was visiting Detroit.

We're looking forward to more blogs and vlogs from 482Forward in the weeks to come!

482Forward is a citywide education organizing network in Detroit. "We are neighborhood organizations, parents, and youth committed to ensuring that all Detroit children have access to an excellent education, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Together, we are building power to make systemic change and win educational justice for our communities.

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10/25/2019

 

Check out the first vlog by Wally Aldeen Alhomaidi from the 482Youth group of 482Forward "Why Funding Matters" about school funding.

We're looking forward to more blogs and vlogs from 482Forward in the weeks to come!

482Forward is a citywide education organizing network in Detroit. "We are neighborhood organizations, parents, and youth committed to ensuring that all Detroit children have access to an excellent education, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Together, we are building power to make systemic change and win educational justice for our communities.

 

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10/24/2019

My first year of college was...a rough ride.

I had just graduated from my city’s number one school, and all of a sudden I was attending a top ten university. My life was a whirlwind, and I was taken aback by how quickly things happened.

I had applied to Northwestern University pretty late in the game, and didn’t put much thought into it after looking at their acceptance rate -- TWELVE PERCENT. I figured I wouldn’t get in, but saw no harm in trying, especially because my school had given me free application vouchers. But then, I did get in, and things took off from there. After a visit, some calls, and some VERY hefty scholarships, I decided I’d attend the school. 

Nothing could have prepared me for my first year though. 

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10/02/2019

I’m sure everyone has heard “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” at least once in their lifetime. Whether they agree, or not, is a different matter, but I think we can all agree on the fact that food is important. We need food for our brains and bodies to properly function throughout the day. We need food that’s high in nutrients and vitamins, the sufficient amount. And honestly, we all prefer good tasting food, right? All that being said, you would expect for places like schools to meet these criteria right? Or at least some. Well, you’re in for a real treat.

For as long as I can remember I’ve hated school lunches. If my mom didn’t pack me a lunch for that day, I would be left pouting with a rumbling stomach. I've never really been the picky type but something about those school lunches always kind of grossed me out. 

As I grew up and progressed through middle school, I noticed I wasn’t the only one. Dozens of people would skip the line for lunch, just to go and buy something from the vending machine until one day...tragedy hit. We received the news that Michelle Obama created a new public health campaign. With this campaign, a child nutrition reauthorization bill was passed that shut down school vending machines all around the country. Her aim was to reduce childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle in children, which is pretty noble, but it didn’t do too well in action. Kids were now being forced to pick a fruit or vegetable, that they didn’t even want, to go with each tray of mystery food. The mystery food didn’t even appear to be nutritious in any way, shape, or form--a lot of times it was grilled cheese in a bag, or maybe fried chicken. It always looked either too dry, or too wet. There was either not enough seasoning, or way too much. Not enough color, or a mix of unappealing colors that portrayed vomit. And don’t even ask me about if the food was ever expired--cause then I’d have to tell you it was. Often. I can assure you that at least half of it was wasted and thrown out every day. Now, I’m not being ungrateful, I understand that any food is better than no food, but if officials see that kids aren’t responding well to their meal plans, why can’t they just ask students what they’d’ enjoy? Why are kids being left hungry, or to eat junk food throughout the day? That doesn’t seem to encourage healthy eating at all.

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08/22/2019

Hello everyone, it’s me, Wally again. Some of you may know me from my last blog “Why Funding Matters.” As I stated before, even though charter schools are publicly funded and experience many of the same issues that schools in the Detroit Public School District face, in many instances, it's much harder to hold them accountable to the students, families, and communities they serve. 

That’s mostly because of how far away the board, management companies, and other leaders of the school feel. They aren’t accessible to us, and we only really get responses when we make a big fuss (and the responses are never good). Honestly, I’m not even sure if I know HOW to hold my school officials accountable. The traditional district, Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) has lots of ways to do so. Students have access to emails, numbers, hotlines, etc. to reach their board and superintendent. But at my school, we don’t know who the board members are because we have no way to talk to them. And even if we do actually get to talk to our school leaders, that doesn’t mean they’ll address any of our concerns. Sometimes, we bring ideas to our superintendent and she doesn’t even write them down--because she knows no one can hold her accountable to them!  

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07/25/2019

My first day of high school I ate lunch in the bathroom—or at least I tried to. I walked into the bathroom, sat on the sink, and attempted to eat my cheese sticks while I wondered why I couldn’t just be a regular kid. Girls walked in and out, frowning at me and laughing with their friends. I was embarrassed, but I knew that this embarrassment was much better than what awaited me in the intimidating lunchroom. 

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05/21/2019


Recently, I’ve started to realize how different my community is from other people’s.

Have you ever noticed how poor communities of color are portrayed in movies and shows? It is always much worse than how affluent, white neighborhoods are represented. The visual contrasts are vast, and the message is clear-- poor communities of color are different and don’t deserve the same things.These symbolic messages almost always impact our reality, which creates obvious divide between these communities.

 

 

 

 

 

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04/18/2019

The crisp clean floor sparkles with each step my feet make. As I walk through the corridors I can’t help but stare in awe. To my right is a sleek and shiny cafeteria, with fixed round tables and an open space. Looking to my left, my eyes cross in amazement at the state of the art library, jam packed with novels and study areas. I peak out back, through the sturdy gymnasium doors, to find a football field sitting in a bed of emerald vegetation.

Strolling through this alternate educational dimension, reality finally sets in-- I’m visiting a school only 15 minutes away from my own. Immediately, I’m pulled back to the reality of my school. The dread of having to sit on broken desks, in a class not of my choosing. The inadequacy of my school’s “multipurpose” room; a small designated area serving as a crammed gymnasium, lunchroom, and auditorium. The storage closet library my school provides isn’t efficient enough for the 732 students it serves.

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03/18/2019

 

Hello everyone, I’m Wally. For most of my school life I’ve been in a district that can’t even afford a proper lunchroom.

You may think that sounds strange, but for me, it’s reality. I never questioned the lack of resources available to me--I thought it was normal.

Here’s a list of a few regular occurrences in my school I pegged as normal:

  • Using one small room as a gymnasium, lunchroom, and auditorium

  • Not having a music class

    • Only being able to use instruments that my teacher could afford to buy us

  • Not having access to any transportation

  • Using a small closet for a library

    • Reading 10-year-old books in that closet

  • Using broken desks, chairs, and ripped books

 



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02/25/2019

Check out the first vlog by Naja Nile from the 482Youth group of 482Forward "Why I Organize" about student organizers.

We're looking forward to more blogs and vlogs from 482Forward in the weeks to come!

482Forward is a citywide education organizing network in Detroit. "We are neighborhood organizations, parents, and youth committed to ensuring that all Detroit children have access to an excellent education, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Together, we are building power to make systemic change and win educational justice for our communities.  
 


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02/04/2019

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.

 

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