May 2, 2023

The Leaders of Tomorrow, Today! Youth Leadership Development

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) works to engage more leaders with the community to build power through relational meetings and acting together. One path for this work has centered around how to connect with young leaders in the community. The goal is to take actions that foster strong community ties and to grow these young people’s leadership skills. Youth Leadership Development training is one of the tools SWOP uses to connect with these young community members, creating a safe space where they can share their experiences, thoughts and make decisions that ultimately allow them to act.

As one example, SWOP organizers Angee Peralta and Joel Rodriguez worked with two of their young leaders, Luz and Miriam Hernandez, to organize a meeting where participants talked about some of the key issues SWOP is working on. They discussed Healthy Illinois, which aims to provide health insurance to immigrants from age 19-41; Temporary Visitors Driver’s License (TVDL)/Driver's Licenses for ALL, which is an initiative aimed at allowing people to get valid driver’s licenses regardless of their legal status; and, Access to justice, which focuses on decreasing the impact of detention and incarceration and the resulting effects on historically marginalized communities. Some individuals also shared their personal stories regarding issues they have experienced or those they have seen in their community.

Testimonies were shared by the group regarding issues they had with using Temporary Visitors Driver’s Licenses and not being allowed to take money out of their own bank accounts because they could not identify themselves with that license. There were other leaders who shared the issues of not being able to afford certain medications and the lack of resources available to them and their loved ones due to their legal status. During the conversation Joel Rodriguez, Community Organizer, shared this, “It was heartbreaking watching a family with two young kids develop an emergency plan for if ICE were to invade their home.”

These conversations, while difficult to have, are only the beginning as the facilitators extended the invitation for those in attendance to stay involved with the next steps in the campaigns. Those steps including volunteering for the DACA/New Americans Initiative, a future SWOP Youth Training on May 12th, 2023, and a Phone Banking opportunity in the week of May 15th.

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