Samantha Gonzalez, 15, is a sophomore at the Columbus High School Campus and a Youth Leader at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) in the South Bronx.
In August of 2013, I first heard the name Urban Youth Collaborative. I was participating in their weeklong training, the Youth Organizing Institute. For a week, I learned essential organizing skills, learned about the movement for educational justice in NYC, built great relationships with young people from all over the City, and even got to meet the new mayor’s family! I did all this with youth my own age who share the same struggle as me. Being surrounded by my peers, youth that look like me, makes me feel more open to sharing ideas.
Joining UYC has given YMPJ the opportunity to experience things we would probably never have had the chance to: marching in Albany against budget cuts, having fun and working hard at an all youth retreat upstate, joining young people from across the country at national convenings, making history at Freedom Summer at the end of June. Joining UYC has been good for us because YMPJ is currently the only organization in the southern part of the Bronx working on education reform. This has given us a chance to bring our perspective and experience with schools in our area in addition to getting support from other youth organizations like ours. We are excited to be part of a citywide youth movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
In order to make real systemic change in our local communities it is important that we make city and statewide policy changes through a united effort. I believe that by continuing to do great work with UYC, we can bring justice into our schools.
The great Malcolm X once said, “I am for the truth no matter who tells it, and I am for Justice no matter who it’s for or against.” I believe this is true for the young people of the South Bronx.