What would you do if your assignment was to raise a cup of coffee over your head… while balancing the cup on a chair… using just one hand? 

Sounds hard, right?

Najmo was struggling with just that, until her good friend Amariana had an idea. “Can I help her?”

LCEC staff use scenarios like these to prompt conversations with young people and adults about the ways identity and power interact in “real life.” 

In this case, Najmo and Amariana were participating in activities on MLK Day. Each year the LCEC’s youth programs staff organize a special day of learning for youth in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Attending any activity on a non-school day is a tough sell,” notes Lisbeth Solano, the LCEC’s High School and Buffett Scholars Programs Coordinator. “I think that because youth in Lussier build relationships with staff and other youth, they’re more inclined to try new things. Their connection to Lussier is their motivation to be part of activities and events that make Lussier great.” 

The nine young people who chose to participate this year spent their day talking about activism, identity, and the Constitution – specifically Section 1 of the 14th Amendment regarding the due process of law and equal protections.

By dissecting the language and analyzing who was included and who was intentionally left out of the creation of this amendment and the constitution itself, students gained a better understanding of one of the many reasons the civil rights movement arose. From there, they wrote about their own identities and reflected on what settings they might find themselves in where those identities would be an issue. Race and gender played a significant part in their discussion, and youth shared worries about interacting with police as well as perspectives on racism and misogyny found in the medical field. 

After discussing terms like “POC,” “marginalized community,” and “model minority,” the conversation circled back to Dr. King, MLK Day, and what the civil rights movement accomplished. While for some the movement signifies the integration of Black and white communities, students noted how every marginalized community within the US has been affected and that when we understand the system and our power, we are able to disrupt the -isms (racism, sexism, able-ism, etc.) holding systemic structures in place.

The final stop on their MLK Day racial justice journey involved a discussion about modern day activism. AJ shared, “It’s amazing that the Bucks united with the movement and refused to play” [after the shooting of Jacob Blake]. Another high school student, Axel, experienced 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in remembrance of George Floyd before a Minnesota Twins game. “That’s a number our generation will never forget,” he said.

Racial and social justice is a foundational pillar of the LCEC’s work, so discussions like these happen more than once a year. The anxiety and fear that come with being a young person of color in America affects these students every day. As we foster youth leadership and a more healthy, vibrant community, we remember these words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” (Stride Toward Freedom, 1957.)