I just returned home from an event run by two of my friends who are youth workers, collaborating with young people of color to give voice to educational inequities.* I was inspired by the high school students and community members who shared their stories, naming the disturbing -- yet unfortunately unsurprising -- ways that wealth affects the quality of schools in the United States. What has become effectively a policy of depriving resources to communities of color and low-income communities is a key, root cause of disproportionately high rates of imprisonment of these same groups. Lack of access to quality education and thus employment opportunities profoundly impacts young people's lives -- preventing some from being leaders simply because they are not white and/or don't have money.
Hearing these stories, surrounded by many dear friends, I was reminded why I'm looking forward to experiencing a few brief weeks in South Africa. Certainly I'm grateful to have the privilege to travel halfway around the world, see beautiful mountains, and meet some activists and children who I hear are wonderful. Nonetheless, I must also never forget myself as a college-educated White American with the economic opportunity to pursue this experience -- reminiscent of colonial travel to 'exotic' places far from home -- with responsibilities to address the many injustices ingrained in our society, within Minneapolis / Saint Paul and the University of Minnesota itself. I realize that I'm constantly thinking about how my experience in South Africa can provide insights into organizing with others to fight for changes in the United States, a country founded upon the creation of white supremacy. I'm reminded that endeavors to change centuries old systems aren't a one-time act but rather works in progress, moving in multiple directions and entailing frequent mistakes, instead of a singular march toward some particular arrival point. I don't expect an answer of sorts but I do look forward to being away from the Twin Cities, processing and reflecting on the ways I'm implicated in this experience while it's also affecting my political consciousness uniquely.
I signed up to go to South Africa because I'd heard from some good friends of mine that they underwent significant changes personally. I plan to put my whole self into this trip and soak up every ounce of learning I can, in order to reflect more on what I can do at home here in the United States. Ultimately, we must strive to uproot the legacies of apartheid maintained within our own borders.
*Their organization is called the Youth Education Justice Initiative (YEJI) -- please find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YEJImn or Twitter @YEJImn.