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Janis Galway, tian yue, students from Brookview

Title: Mobilizing Youth Leadership for Social Justice in Your Classroom

Session presenters: Janis Galway, tian yue and students from Brookview Middle School

Organization: Community Builders Youth Leadership

Contact information: Janis Galway, Executive CoDirector: janis.galway@sympatico.ca


Brief description of workshop:

Community Builders is an NGO that has been training students, teachers and parents to be community leaders and social activists in different school communities in Ontario for the last 12 years.  In this workshop they share some key elements of their program for activists as young as 10 years old, including how to recognize distress patterns that activists encounter in community members (such as chronic hopelessness), how to hold the powerful perspective on challenging situations, how to build alliances across group identity lines, and how to use the skills of listening and appreciation to bring positive change. 


Workshop goals:

  • To share with participants Community Builders’ ideological framework for social activism;
  • To demonstrate and practise useful skills which they can use to train student activists.


Strategies used:

A team of students from a middle school in the Jane Finch neighbourhood of Toronto assisted Community Builders trainers in presenting training models, and engaging participants in interactive skits and activities.  


Two key resources that support our work:

Brown, Cherie and Mazza, George J. (1997). Healing into action. Washington, USA: National Coalition Building Institute.  Offers a series of practical principles for activists interested in a non-blaming approach to  change.


Jackins, Harvey. (1978). The human side of human beings: The theory of Re-evaluation Counseling. Washington: Rational Island Publishers.  An introduction to a theory of human behaviour that is very useful for social activists.

Issues which we continue to struggle with in our own pursuits of educational activist goals:

  • Young peoples’ oppression - Adult educators often underestimate and undervalue the power of youth leadership and do not provide students with the necessary support to make the changes they see need to be made in the schools.  It is sometimes hard to convince adults that training young people to be leaders is worth the investment of time and money.  They can also be fearful of the power of young peoples’ thinking.
  • Pressures on schools and on teachers-With increasing curriculum demands, even schools that are committed to youth leadership find it difficult to release students and teachers from the classroom for the training they need to become activists. 

Next steps (E.g., Supports [theoretical or practical] that may enhance our ongoing or future practice):

  • The most pressing need is for more funding support, so that leading edge programs in community leadership can continue to be developed and offered. 
  • Community building concepts and skills taught in depth by skilled teachers/trainers need to be part of the curriculum.

“Big idea” that we want people to walk away with:

The most powerful starting place for activism is the assumption that humans are inherently good – intelligent and loving with a zest for life - but that they get hurt, internalize the hurts (“swallow the poison”) and then take out the hurts on other people.  Being trained to be an oppressor is also a hurt. 

As a leader and activist, the most effective way to change people is to not blame them for the hurts they have been subjected to, but instead to listen to their stories, to look for their underlying hurts, to appreciate whatever positive aspects of themselves they are able to show, and to help them get back to their true positive nature underneath the hurts.

In the Community Builders Team Song, our young student leaders sing “We all want to make some changes – make it safe for people to be themselves.”

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