This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Members of the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Youth United for Change (YUC) got together in February to organize “Turn Up for the Movement!” – a citywide student assembly focused on educating students about the problems that have been plaguing the School District of Philadelphia and mobilizing them to speak out about the issues.
More than 100 students, parents, and others attended this youth summit held at Edison High School and participated in three workshops: on budget cuts, the school-to-prison pipeline, and “The Young & the Restless.”
In the budget cuts workshop, participants examined the education cuts made over the past three years. The school-to-prison pipeline discussion addressed connections between the war on drugs, hip hop, and mass incarceration in the United States. The last workshop covered the role of young people in social movements.
PSU member and Benjamin Franklin senior Sharron Snyder helped lead the workshop on budget cuts. Snyder said she was involved because “I’m passionate about my education and I want to see Philadelphia public schools do better,” but said, “it’s hard for us because they expect us to do so much with so little.”
PSU and YUC members met twice a week, and every other Saturday for several months to plan and organize the event.
They handed out flyers on SEPTA platforms every Friday in the weeks leading up to the summit and tried to recruit people, specifically students, to join their organizing efforts.
“You don’t have to be an adult or have to be in your 20s to make a change,” said Cierra Mallette, a YUC member and Edison senior.
“It’s all about fighting for what you believe in and finding a way to get to where you want to go.”
Youth advocates said they hope to draw more young people into organizing on these issues. Although next steps on how to do this have not been solidified, PSU and YUC members are talking through possible plans. Staging sit-ins, walkouts, and blockades are among the ideas they are considering to make their voices heard.