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Celebrating and Encouraging Youth Activism: Dolores Huerta, Maria Romero, and Arii Lynton Smith
Jenni Owen-Blackmon

“We always say that youth are the future. But in today’s world, you are the changemakers right now. Youth are capitulating the country to go in the right direction for issues of social justice, racial justice, and climate change.”
- Dolores Huerta

Branson School’s student-led and student-organized Youth Forum, Education Reimagined – Brilliance Redefined opened on Wednesday, April 28 with a keynote discussion focused on youth activism, featuring three dynamic speakers:

  • Dolores Huerta – Labor leader, civil rights activist, educator, and community organizer for over 60 years who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association (later to become the United Farm Workers Union) and created the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
  • Arii Lynton Smith – Young, Black, Queer community organizer based in Louisville, whose involvement with community organizing began in high school 8 years ago
  • Maria Romero – Moderator and educator with a life-long passion for social justice and marginalized youth, who currently serves as program coordinator for E3 and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Their discussion centered on the power of youth to be effective changemakers – the opportunities, the challenges, and the critical importance of getting involved to make a difference in the future of our world. All three of the presenters spoke from their personal experience of organizing – Dolores’ from the vantage point of someone who’s been doing this work for a very long time, Maria as someone who grew up alongside Dolores and her family, and Arii’s from the perspective of a young person fighting to make an impact and be taken seriously by her elders.

Dolores shared: “There’s a lot of darkness in many people’s thoughts and actions – their brains are not yet illuminated around issues of social justice. When you get involved when you’re young you will carry the movement in your heart. When you feel the power of everyone coming together it physically teaches you that common, ordinary people do have power. Never underestimate the power of one person who cares and is committed to the movement.”

She encourages families to involve their children early in the work of social change: “The family that pickets together stays together! Kids like to copy what their parents do, even when they don’t fully understand what they're doing. But they do remember the way that they feel, and that good feeling when you make the world better, or when you do something good to help others.”

Arii shared her own experiences of age-ism from institutions and in educational environments “more concerned about molding students than giving us the space to grow – trying to shrink me and making me smaller." She added, "Now, working with youth, I tell you, no, you’re brilliant NOW.”

A former teacher who left the profession to organize, Dolores affirmed, “Educators, think big. The sky is the limit; youth can do anything and everything, and we shouldn’t constrain students or try to limit them. Think of every child that you’re teaching, and give them the wings to fly.”

The trio also spoke of cultural resiliency – the need to go back to our cultural roots, as this gives us the dignity and confidence we need to go forward. This discussion centered specifically on food and farming, but also extended far beyond that to the health inequities during Covid, to the BIPOC and BLM movements, and more.

Speaking of resiliency – how do they keep up their stamina, in these challenging times when there’s so much work still to do?

Dolores asserted,“This work can be heavy; there’s a lot to lift. So, we celebrate the activities that we’re involved in, every little victory. We’re challenging big issues, but you have to find a way to make it fun. Sing songs, celebrate. Trying to help other people helps us to feel good. We learn from obstacles and our mistakes. But we’re not going to quit; we’re going to continue to march to justice.”

Arii agreed, “It’s all about community building. Surround yourself with people who give you joy. That’s how to make the work more sustainable: ‘If I can’t dance with you, I can’t protest with you.’”

Finally the speakers encouraged young people to get involved in specific and tangible ways – email Senators and Congresspeople, protest and march, but also get out and vote in local government and school board elections so that change can be made into law.

“Youth – yes, you can do it. Si se puede.”

 

Branson’s Youth Forum, Education Reimagined – Brilliance Redefined, was organized by students with support from DEI Director Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz and members of the Branson faculty.