Quabeeny Daniels better known as Q, is a 28-year-old who grew up on the Southwest side of Chicago in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood and currently works as the Employment Organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). Q got his start in organizing in the Teen Reach as a young leader. He was very closely connected to the Parent Mentor Program, looking up to them as examples of how passionate adults can help guide young minds. This, though not knowing it at the time, was his first exposure to SWOP. He recalls the Center of Change (C2) opening on 63rd, having been an entity that was a part of the Southwest Youth Collaborative (SWYC) which he joined for a while and began to become more exposed to aspects of organizing. This connection helped him to understand many of the injustices that surrounded his community as well as the importance of being willing to step forward for something you believe in. In that time, he did a lot of advocacy work around dismantling unfair policies in place by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system.
Q recalls having meetings regularly with CPS where he and his peers pressured them to have restorative justice practitioners available to intervene when students were facing disciplinary actions. Q states that he had a strong appetite to tackle Education Justice, also taking part in a campaign to get rid of Juvenile detention centers as it did not effectively rehabilitate or provide learning opportunities for the youth to better themselves. He began to tell a story that impacted him profoundly and fueled another campaign to get a trauma center closer to where they were needed. “I remember there was a young man who got shot and he unfortunately ended up passing away and our thought was; maybe if there was a trauma center closer, he may have received more immediate care and survived. Not having care readily available, especially in low-income areas, can be considered a death sentence for so many people.” Unfortunately, SWYC lost their funding at the time and ended up shutting its doors, but a teenaged Q valued the lessons on advocacy and organizing he had learned from them.
While going into Gage Park High School, Q found himself having multiple conversations with SWOP Community Organizer, Joel Rodriguez, who was passionate about getting him to join the VOYCE project. Although Q would not join VOYCE officially until his sophomore year, he would regularly find himself with Joel and other young people from the youth group.
Sometime after joining VOYCE, Q and a few of his peers found out that the principal was looking into students who would make the school look worse via their test scores, separating them by division which would be displayed on their student IDs. Bringing this issue to Joel, he recognized how unfair and ostracizing it was for the teens to be treated like that and rallied them together. This led them to boycotting the school and leading an action against the unfair practices that were being taken against the students. “Joel really cemented in me that we had so much more power than we thought we did. I knew my voice mattered, but something about the way that Joel was so relational about his approach that made it really stick.”
Q talked a bit more about how grateful he was for the many opportunities he was able to be a part of such as going to California to lead a workshop about having youth voices in decision making, playing a big role in getting SB100 (A bill that would tackle the school to prison pipeline) and even going to Washington for a youth summit where they spoke on panels about their experience as young people and how the work they had done had changed them.
After graduating and departing from VOYCE, Q apprenticed with Public Allies and spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of non-profit organizations. He later got hired full time at Mikva Challenge and learned how to run different programming in the community, namely Marquette Elementary and worked closely with Increase the Peace (ITP) where he was placed in charge of mentoring young boys of color, then joined on with YJC where he got his first taste of Workforce Development.
When asked about the work he currently takes on, Q replied with this. “I love the work and I love what I do. I never thought I would be a licensed career advisor. I get to recognize and affirm young people and adults who want to better themselves and want to pursue work that fits their vision of their future. We want them to know that no matter what they choose, they can get a job they love and earn a livable wage. I’m glad to be in this position and be a thought partner alongside them. If there was one thing I wish I could do better, it would be the ability to help those who are undocumented.” Q expressed his frustration in feeling helpless that he can’t help those who he feels desperately needs it the most and disappointed in the system that has turned their back on those in the community who are at their most vulnerable.
When asked about the future of his work, Q goes on to explain that he hopes more schools begin to recognize the different pathways available to youth. The same resources available for those who want to go to college should be available to those who want to jump into the workforce or pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. He also expressed wanting the state to recognize the different avenues for work that are available and put money into professions that don’t get as much attention. “There’s a lot of money and time that goes into things like getting Certified Driver’s Licenses (CDL) and becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), but there are those who put all of their heart into doing something like becoming a barber, becoming an entrepreneur or even being an organizer.”
At the end of it all, Q expressed that he would not give up this avenue of work for anything else and is excited about the future of workforce development and the futures of all the community members he can impact along the way.