“There’s nothing we can do to change these problems. They are never gonna change.”
“Man, if Martin Luther King had thought that, where do you think we would be?”
– An interchange between two GC students at the start of the GC program, Fall 2012
As Generation Citizen launches our fall and yearlong programs in classrooms across Greater Boston, New York, and Providence, it’s not uncommon to hear skepticism from students about their power to improve their communities. GC students like their GC Democracy Coaches, they enjoy the forum GC provides to express their ideas and hear from their classmates, and they welcome the chance to discuss and debate community problems. But actually solving those problems? Students aren’t so sure that they can.
The Power of Real-Life Stories
GC believes that this sense of civic disjuncture cannot be changed by spewing affirmational platitudes, or by talking students through the hypotheticals of civic involvement. Rather, students must experience taking action to create change in order to learn that they can (and HOW they can).
That said, stories do help to showcase that grassroots community change by youth is very much a real thing. Martin Luther King and other historical examples are part of the GC curriculum, but we also amply share local examples of youth making change. Coupled with the experience of doing the GC action project, these stories show our students, powerfully, that they do have a voice.
Nadia’s Story: Recycling in Boston Public Schools
With this in mind, I’ve been thrilled to share with my Greater Boston classes a recent example of youth making change: the passage of single-stream recycling in Boston Public Schools, a move very much accelerated by a Generation Citizen student from Boston Arts Academy, Nadia Issa.
– Part 1: We Should Call it Nadia’s Law: Last spring, GC student Nadia Issa makes an appeal for recycling in schools at Generation Citizen’s Civics Day. Inspired, Civics Day guest Councilor Felix Arroyo files a hearing order to launch single stream recycling across the entire district.
– “Nadia’s Law”: Part 2: The hearing takes place, and the Committee on Education supports a plan by BPS Facilities and the Center for Green Schools to launch a single-stream recycling initiative across 50 BPS schools for the 2012-2013 school year, with the aim of expanding to all 125 BPS schools by next fall. Moreover, the Committee members applaud that Nadia and her classmates spoke up, and make a point of advocating for ongoing youth participation in the recycling initiative.
– The Launch: BPS goes forward with the proposed initiative this past September 2012. Mayor Menino rings in the event with a special ceremony at Blackstone Elementary. See below for a video of Mayor Menino kicking off single-stream recycling:
What does Nadia Issa think of all of this? She wrote me the following email when I shared with her the news:
I honestly feel so astonished, yet so proud of myself and my lovely fellow classmates. This wonderful outcome was far from what I had expected in taking a part of both Generation Citizens and publically speaking about our issues! Youth can really make a difference, so awesome!
The Moral of the Story?
Yes, change can be hard, change can be slow, and for underrepresented youth across Greater Boston and GC’s partner cities, change can be daunting.
But don’t think let yourself think that change is impossible.
If Martin Luther King had thought that, where do you think we would be?
If Nadia Issa had thought that, where do you think we would be?
-Gillian Pressman, Greater Boston Program Manager