Youth Undoing Institutional Racism Project (YUIR, 1999-2005)
“YUIR is the very reason I’m involved in activism. At YUIR I’ve been exposed to people totally dedicated to creating social justice and I’ve acquired plenty of skills to benefit the cause I’m bringing to light-ending institutional oppression in the public school system.”
— Charhys Bailey, 18 year old YUIR member
Racism in Seattle’s Schools.
Seattle’s schools do not adequately serve youth of color or low-income students. The curriculum and teachers do not reflect the ethnic diversity of Seattle’s youth. Youth feel disconnected from school and fell they lack power to make a change. Budgets for education are being cut, college tuition is increasing, and we see military recruiters targeting youth of color to join the armed forces. We believe that institutionalized racism causes these disparities.
Youth Undoing Institutional Racism Project.
To address these issues youth created the Youth Undoing Institutionalized Racism (YUIR) project in 1999. The original partners in forming YUIR included the City of Seattle Undoing Institutional Racism group, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro De La Raza, Wilderness Inner-City Youth Development (WILD) and American Friends Service Committee. Youth from each organization made up the youth membership and adult staff acted as mentors and advisors for the group.
Since 1999, YUIR educated over 1,000 youth in the principles of undoing institutionalized racism, and developed the anti-racist organizing skills of 100 core youth leaders who are now organizing in Seattle, on their college campuses and local communities.
YUIR evolved into a collaboration between Seattle Young People’s Project, the People’s Institute Northwest, and Native Youth Action. We worked to develop anti-racist leadership and organizing skills among a core group of multi-racial high school age youth in Seattle. The youth in YUIR educated other youth about their culture, as well as institutional and individual racism and how they can take action to undo racism in their schools and communities. At that time, YUIR was composed of 25 high school age youth who met weekly at SYPP to increase their knowledge about racism and other forms of oppression, and to take action for change. Caucuses specifically for youth of color, and white youth also met 1-2 times per month.
Some accomplishments include:
- In June, 2002 YUIR held a rally at the Seattle School Board office with over 100 students and adult supporters. At the rally YUIR presented a list of recommendations to the School Board about how they could begin to undo racism in Seattle’s schools. Since then YUIR continued to pressure the school board and speak out against institutionalized racism in the schools. Because of YUIR and other community groups’ organizing many of YUIR’s recommendations have been addressed.
- Between 1999 and 2001, students at Foster High School who attended the two day summer training formed their own group, Tukwila Students for Peace and Justice. Working with the Tukwila school board and superintendent they were able to pass a school board resolution recognizing that racism existed and committing the school district to take steps to undo institutional racism. The first such resolution passed by a school board that we re aware of! The resolution was posted in every classroom and the students continued to meet monthly with the Superintendent to monitor his progress on addressing racism in the schools.
- In February 2002 the Seattle School District agreed to allow YUIR to mail information about the hazards of military service and non-violent employment and service options for youth.
- In May 2003, the school district finally agreed to begin using Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the Untied States,” a multi-cultural look at America’s past, in U.S. History classes. This was one of YUIR’s first requests, which had been denied for the past three years.
- In July 2002, the Native American Student group at West Seattle High School won a school board resolution banning all derogatory mascots including that schools “Indians” mascot. Last month the decision was upheld by the court despite a lawsuit to overturn it by the West Seattle High School Alumni Association.
- In August 2002, for the first time ever, Seattle Schools devoted an entire workday for all staff to participate in a “Courageous Conversations On Race”. While this forum was not as intensive and as thorough of an anti-racism training as YUIR has requested, it was a monumental start for the Seattle Schools.
- In October 2002, YUIR and the People’s Institute Northwest facilitated a series of anti-racism trainings for all 200 of the students and staff of Nova High School. The school continued to have discussions after the trainings and formed an on going committee to address issues of race and racism at the school.
YUIR joined the Coalition to Undo Racism Everywhere (CURE) to organize two “Teach Out” days last school year. Over 800 youth and adults attended these day long workshops where they learned culturally relevant anti-racist history, lessons from elders, and about how to make positive change in their schools and communities.
- YUIR submitted a proposal to the City of Seattle Dept of Neighborhood Race Relations and Social Justice RFT to begin offering anti-racism workshops and supporting Anti-Racism Change Teams of staff and students at two Seattle High Schools in the 2003-2004 school year.
- Since 1999, over 300 youth and adult mentors attended the two-day summer trainings. These youth have become involved with the year round YUIR program as well as brought the principles of undo racism back to their own organizations.
- Over 50 of those youth and adult mentors who attended the training became “trainers in training” and have given anti-racism workshops and presentations to over 100 community based groups, churches and schools. These youth and adult mentors have educated over 3,000 of their peers in the principles of anti-racist organizing.
The Undoing Institutional Racism Workshop has been a life transforming experience for many youth. It has awakened hundreds of youth to understand the effects of racism and power structures on their communities and has given them effective tools to work for positive social change. The youth who attend the training come away feeling empowered to make a difference in their schools, communities and personal lives.