In a recent classroom discussion, one eighth-grader at Cleveland’s Anton Grdina school was initially reluctant to pay attention or participate. The topic was “Exploring Power & Privilege”, and the conversation was being led by Empowering Youth Exploring Justice (EYEJ), a nonprofit committed to inspiring social justice conversations with and for Cleveland youth.
It wasn’t until one of the volunteers pulled out a chess board that the student came alive. The class explored roles of kings versus queens and pawns on the game board. This is just one example of the many unique and creative approaches EYEJ volunteers have taken to help at-risk students step outside of their daily curriculum and explore topics that are important to their personal development.
Founded in 2013, EYEJ strives to provide a space for young people to have their voices heard and engage in a dialogue about the change they want to see in their own lives, the world or right down the road. An ongoing Discussion Series takes place in several Cleveland schools, with curriculum designed to foster dialogue between students, teachers and guest speakers. Topics include civil rights, education, health, inequality and community relationships.
“People from all walks of life must be represented around the table if we are truly going to create change,” says Mai Moore, EYEJ executive director. Discussions are led by a range of speakers, including elected officials, formerly incarcerated individuals, medical professionals, DEA agents and comedians.
Along with the Discussion Series, two new initiatives are underway at EYEJ. DiscussSocialJustice.com was recently launched as a fee-based tool for educators teaching social justice curriculum and will eventually provide an online platform for youth around the world. Similar to a virtual pen pal system, classrooms will be able to connect instantaneously from far and wide to discuss today’s most pressing issues.
In November, EYEJ will launch the EYEJ Impact 25 Youth Council, which will feature 19 youth between the ages of 15 and 25 uniting to address the greatest challenges and injustices their communities face. Together, they will create recommendations for solutions to these issues and present it to Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams, commanders of area police districts and the Cleveland Indians. Participating youth will have paid positions through the program, meet regularly with community leaders around Cleveland and work to create lasting change in their neighborhoods.
Help buy more chess boards and curriculum materials! Your tax-deductible donation can be made online and will help advance youth-centered social justice discussions.
Get involved. EYEJ is currently seeking volunteers, corporate partners and guest speakers for the 2017-18 school year. There are many ways to get involved and help them continue to empower Cleveland youth.
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