Three Quarters of a Year in Review: Winter, Spring, and Summer 2020

This was a monumental 9 months of accomplishments, heartache, and opportunity.

Accomplishments

On June 20th, 2020, #NYCEDU officially became the Youth Power Coalition! This name emerged from our work of bringing youth leaders and adult allies together, in partnership with IntegrateNYC, to explore the question: What is our collective vision for youth power and how might we work together to build youth power across the city? I am thrilled with this development, as it is the foundation we were looking for to take our mission of powering youth-led collective impact to the next level.

I’m also filled with joy whenever I take a moment to appreciate the Youth Power Coalition team, pictured below.

Photo of the Youth Power Coalition Team Retreat’s Participants. Not pictured because they weren’t able to attend the full retreat: Rachel Kate Miller, Aneth Naranjo, and Matt Gonzalez. Leanne Nunes has also joined since this photo was taken to replace Julisa Perez as our IntegrateNYC rep.

We are majority youth leaders and majority people of color. We are living out our value of collective impact that is community-led, particularly by young people most impacted by inequity. I could not be more proud of us, and I could not be more proud of me. Because just like #NYCEDU is transforming into the Youth Power Coalition, I am transitioning from founder of #NYCEDU to co-creator of the Youth Power Coalition. I’ve gone from being lead organizer of every #NYCEDU event, to simply being a participant of Youth Power Coalition events. I’ve supported youth leaders in becoming facilitators, in grappling with governance, in creating communications systems. I can think of no greater sign of success than this, that I am no longer needed in the roles that I’ve held for so long.

I’m also excited to announce that we are officially an independent 501(c)3 non-profit! This means that we are now in full control of our destiny and can do things that really push the boundaries of what it means to govern a non-profit. We’ve created a Mission Circle, for example, that has the power to put proposals on the Board’s agenda. As a result, our most foundational team is now majority young people, all while keeping to the letter of the law that says New York City non-profits are limited to only one youth director between the ages of 16 and 17. We’ll also be up-ending the way non-profits handle money, from how we fundraise to how we pay people. I don’t know all the answers yet, but we’ll definitely be doing it differently than business as usual.

Selfie of me holding #NYCEDU’s IRS Determination Letter! I was so excited when I saw the from address that I needed to open the envelope right in my lobby.

I thank our many #NYCEDU Launch Party and Fundraiser donors who made applying for our 501(c)3 status financially possible! The process is not an inexpensive one and your support led directly to the future before us now, the future where we can, through our actions and learnings, impact the entire non-profit field by doing things differently.

I also thank our lawyers at The Lawyer’s Alliance. The pro bono lawyers we worked with were instrumental in guiding us through the process. I cannot sing their praises enough.

And finally, I thank our volunteers: our Board, our speakers, our welcomers, our feedback givers – the heart and soul of our youth-led collective impact movement.

Heartache

Just two days after our launch party, Governor Cuomo announced our city’s first diagnosed case of the novel coronavirus. Two weeks later, New York City and New York City schools shut down. We went into crisis mode. I heard from youth leaders that they needed a single place to go to find resources that would support them and their families, so I collaborated with Sikirat M. of IntegrateNYC to put together this library of Top COVID-19 Resources for NYC Youth and Families. The #NYCEDU and IntegrateNYC teams also turned our in-person convenings into virtual ones, and adjusted our agenda to provide a space for participants to collectively process all we were experiencing. And as we were doing this, the deaths, the hunger, the fear continued to rise.

Then on May 25th, Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds. 17-year-old Darnella Frazier caught this all on video. Darnella’s brave actions provided a catalyst for our communities to rise up and say, louder than ever before, “enough is enough”. Black Lives Matter is now the largest protest movement in recent U.S. history.

Meanwhile, I’ve been navigating all this as someone who identifies as Asian, specifically Taiwanese Malaysian Chinese American. This Facebook post that I wrote on July 5th captures what I’ve been feeling.

I am proud to identify as Asian. I am proud that the term "I am Asian-American" originated as a statement of solidarity. I am proud of the history of mutual support between Black and Asian activists.   I am also scared to walk outside alone sometimes due to the ever rising number of hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans, and I freaking live in Queens. I am tired of being used by white supremacy as a "model minority" on one hand and as a threat to America on the other.   I wonder how many people died in the United States of COVID-19 due to anti-Asian racism. I am 100% sure that one reason for our country's shitty response to this global pandemic was due to some people thinking that the coronavirus was a "them" problem. I am 100% sure that some of the anti-mask sentiment is really xenophobia in disguise. My mom's country of origin, Malaysia, with a population of 31 million, reported 121 deaths, total. Where my dad comes from, Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, reported 7. New York City alone, population 8 million? 22,601. That's 22,000 of my neighbours, predominantly Black and brown and poor, dead, because our country fucked it up.  I cry when I think about how racism, this completely human constructed system of oppression, has killed people for centuries. I cry about xenophobia, trans phobia, classism, ablism, and consumerism. I cry that I am complicit in this system while also trying to change it. I want our society to be one where everyone is equipped to thrive, where we trust one another, where we see us as one community of people who are beautifully different, yes, and also beautifully the same. I have to have hope that we can get there, and that at least the fight itself can create pockets of that future, but I'm also tired. I am very very tired.
Screenshot of my Facebook post on how my identity intersects with the the emotional impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Read alt text for transcription.

It has not been a good half year for our country.

Opportunity

But while I would have much rather our country NOT struggle through a pandemic, this is an opportunity for systems change as well.

Systems change is shifting the conditions that hold a problem in place. These are six conditions that need to be addressed TOGETHER in order to effectively make systems change.

  1. Policies
  2. Practices
  3. Resource Flows
  4. Relationships and Connections
  5. Power Dynamics
  6. Ideologies (Mental Models)

This definition comes from The Water of Systems Change, a must read for anyone who builds movements and collective impact.

I’ve seen the greatest shift in ideology, particularly the ideology of well-meaning white people. I’ve heard over and over from my white friends that they were surprised by just how bad things got. I always tell them that I am not surprised by anything that has happened. I’m devastated, but not surprised. See, slavery never ended, it just morphed. And capitalism never worked. It’s turned the owning class into monsters, bamboozled the middle class, and let just enough folks rise from poverty to wealth to perpetuate the myths of meritocracy and opportunity while killing everyone else. The absolute failure of our current system has made people open to radically different ways of being. My own ideological shift has been in the area community accountability and justice. How might we ensure community safety by the community for the community sans retribution and punishment?

I have my co-conspirators at Mutual Aid NYC to thank for helping me make this shift. Mutual Aid NYC is an emerging network of people and groups building support systems for people in the New York area during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. As a member of this network, I’ve connected with movement traditions that I was not connected with before, from queer justice to abolition, and I’ve learned so much through doing, particularly around transformative justice and governance — lessons that I’m bringing directly back to our work at the Youth Power Coalition.

I am hoping these ideological shifts lead to shifts in these other components of systems change. Take policy for example. I don’t know how much more obvious it can be that we need universal health care that’s not tied to employment. We also need funding for housing and education and universal basic income. And our funds come from saying no to corporations stealing from people to enrich the few and no to people hoarding wealth to the detriment of community and no to institutions of war and oppression. In this I implore people to vote and campaign for progressive candidates.

I also see an opportunity to transform relationships and connections across race and class through the mutual aid. For those of you who are new to the concept of mutual aid, here’s Mutual Aid NYC’s working definition:

Mutual aid, broadly defined, is about having each other’s backs and building caring, sustainable communities where everyone survives and thrives. It grows from an everyday practice of abolition and resistance to settler colonialism.

Definition drafted by the Mutual Aid NYC Accountability and Volunteer Coordination teams

Mutual aid is not a new concept.

Mutual Aid is a unifying term, putting a name to the practice that most of us (BIPOC) folx have been acting on all our lives. 

Regan de Loggans in The History of Mutual Aid + Ways to Keep Showing Up

Mutual aid in my life is my 2nd grade teacher and neighbor dropping groceries off at my house and church members making sure my family had enough money the year my dad suffered from a stroke. Mutual aid in my life is my mom helping other immigrant women start their own childcare businesses and sending money to support family members. As capitalism is failing, perhaps we can restructure our dominant society into one that embraces interdependency and community care, and one that expands the definition of community beyond “people like us” and into simply people.

The Next Three Months

I’m prioritizing sustainability for the next three months. Sustainability of self, sustainability of my relationship, sustainability of Youth Power Coalition and Mutual Aid NYC, and sustainability of others. I define sustainability as the resources, community support, and care needed to be in this work for the long-term. We have both the need to move with urgency as well as the need to move together. Sustainability is how we have the capacity to do both.

With love,

Deborah

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