We are thrilled to introduce the two newest members of our NY team: Ayisha Irfan and Yuan Huang. With different and equally interesting paths to GC, we thought we would have them introduce themselves together in this post.
My path to Generation Citizen has been an interesting one to say the least. It started in June 2009 when an alumni from my university was entrapped and targeted in a terrorism case. What was known as an insular Muslim Student Association quickly worked to unite policy advocates, campus faculty, and civil rights groups both locally and nationwide in calling for transparency and accountability in law enforcement efforts. While the case did not play out as we had hoped, I look back on this experience as a formative time in my life: one where I learned about concepts of community power and coalition building. This was my first exposure to organizing on campus.
As a pre-med student I thought my organizing days were behind me, when in 2011 the Associated Press released reports exposing systematic, broad based surveillance of Muslim business owners, schools and student groups on the East Coast by the New York Police Department. As I tried to find a course of action and reached out to prominent Muslim leaders and civil rights organizations it became painfully obvious that many of the same issue my campus community faced were only amplified in the Muslim communities at large. While Muslims were vehemently fighting for civil rights and equal protection under the law, people, and more importantly communities were not organized. Little work was being done on a grassroots level to engage, organize and mobilize people to create change.
I started organizing because I want to work to create a better future for our youth, but I realized that too often youth are not even a part of the conversation. This led me to a non-profit in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn that was at the forefront of the police reform movement in NYC. Tasked with organizing local high school students around discriminatory policing policies, I quickly recognized the clear lack of knowledge around civic processes in many of my youth, so I created and ran a community organizing summer camp, using abusive policing policies as a lens to teach concepts of organizing and the importance of voting in dismantling such policies. By the end of that summer, the youth were spearheading voter registration efforts, producing blog posts and facilitating focus groups. The program was so successful that we decided to continue it into the next academic year.
As my organizer role naturally merged with role of educator, I started questioning the role education should and ultimately does play in a students’ life. Growing up, I attended one of the top public high schools in New York City. I look back on my high school education as a time when I learned to think critically and found mentors who helped shape the way I saw the world, yet many of the youth I worked with saw high school as nothing short of a diploma mill – a place that is under-resourced, overpopulated, and has little to offer. When asked about their most rewarding projects, most cited extra-curricular activities done outside of school that they had found on their own time. Why wasn’t school serving as the vehicle to connect students to issues and causes they cared about? What about those students who didn’t have time outside of school hours and had families and jobs to tend to? I started dreaming of one day opening up my own activist-oriented school. With what seems like a complete alignment of the stars, only a few days after this initial thought I saw the PA opening at GC. Having organized youth with virtually no official training, and often feeling burnt out by the process, I saw this as an opportunity to provide that much needed support to fellow youth organizers, while helping expand the action civics presence in classrooms. A few short months later, here I am. Two years ago I thought I was on my way to medical school, but events transpired that completely changed the trajectory of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is Yuan Huang, and I just started my new life in NYC last week and my new and very exciting journey with GC! I am thrilled to be a part of this amazing community of students and leaders.
I come from a background in urban youth health, food access policy, and sustainability. I believe that much of Generation Citizen’s work creates long-term “sustainable” solutions through keeping youth invested and civically engaged within their community. My vision is to see youth take an active and primary role in shaping their communities in a way that better addresses their neighborhoods’ needs.
My interest in civic engagement began at my first year as a Temple University undergraduate student. I helped start a community garden dedicated to connecting college students and inner-city public school students through gardening, nutritional, and environmental education. At first, I thought that this would just be a lovely time where we all just gardened and ate vegetables. After the first semester, I realized that growing a community garden was much more than JUST vegetables. It was a way for my students to understand larger concepts such as our current food system, food waste, ecosystem development, and urban development. Students began to ask questions about why their community lacked green space, why they had no access to fresh and affordable foods, and why this has been the case for generations. I saw them connecting larger issues together that addressed and challenged our current political and social structures.
I believe, like the rest of the GC team, that the only way to really understand civic engagement is to live it. Just like how the only way to really understand your food and its impacts on the environment is to grow it. I am excited to make my next step at Generation Citizen where I see myself supporting students and teachers to empower their own community, understand the political process, and become active and engaged citizens–all through the wonderful action and process of civic engagement.
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.