It began in high school—actually before that—but my my first organizing effort was done senior year of high school. Speaking out against things that seemed unjust has always felt natural to me. I had this deep understanding of what I thought was fair or not fair, even when I didn’t have the language to articulate my feelings.
I went to school with people whose parents and families had a lot of wealth and access to resources I knew my family could never afford. I watched communities of people who looked like me live in ghettos. There were international communities deprived of water. I saw women have their bodies policed and abused without any retribution and could never wrap my head around how these injustices could exist so frequently, so normally, without everyone in a rage.
This beautiful graduation season, so many fresh eyes are entering the world, and I’m sure, thinking about the ways to make an impact on society. Thinking about my students who have left me this year and the new students I’ll have next year, I was inspired to compile a short list of lessons that I’ve learned as a young activist and social justice educator. Whether you’re graduating or just looking to get more involved, I hope this list will help guide you on your journey, and I look forward to you all making this world more socially just. Welcome!
Reading is one of the most important first steps for budding social activists. How else will you learn how others experience the world unless you pick up a book, article, journal, or blog and read?
I did not read enough as a child. I still don’t think I read enough, but reading has given me a deeper understanding of myself, of others, and of the world we live in. Growing up, I had the wonderful privilege of having access to libraries and books, so I could add on to the lessons my teachers taught me at school. I read testimony from the Trail of Tears, listened to slave narratives, learned about the Mexican-American war from the side of those who lost homes, families, and lands. Pursuing knowledge outside of the classroom has helped me build my critical thinking skills and my ability to question the histories I was taught.
Here are a few blog posts to get you started.
Find Your Chosen Family
Being a social activist, social justice educator, or just a radical human being in the world can be isolating. As your consciousness grows, it’s a challenge to engage with people who don’t understand your perspective, experience, or awareness. Social justice is not a job. It’s not a 9-to-5 gig you can leave when you get home. It is infused in every aspect of your life—personal relationships, work relationships, raising children, dealing with parents, friends, strangers, and more.
It is so important to find the right people to process with, share in frustration over losses, celebrate in invigorating wins, and create a chosen social justice family. The past ten months I’ve spent building my family of conscious activists, educators, and supporters who continually lift my spirits, keep me engaged, and tell me when to step back and administer some self-care. Your chosen family will ground you in ways that others may not know how. Embrace them when you find them.
Take Breaks and Breathe
With as many social issues as there are around us—especially as we stay tuned to the news, social media, and connect more globally—it is important to take breaks. Burnout is real, so having self-care days filled with movies, nail polish, junk food, long walks, day vacations, scented candles, or whatever else your heart desires is vital to staying rejuvenated, engaged, and in love with the work.
When I don’t take breaks, when I am plugged in too often for too long, I become filled with resentment and forget to stay balanced—breathe.
Courage comes from the Latin root cor– meaning “heart.” Holding on to that idea, courage is less about strength or weakness and is more about living with and working with your heart. Social justice work is not head work; it is heart work, which can be difficult for people to grasp since we are a world that makes decisions and conclusions based on numbers and statistics.
We must stop theorizing and trying to find evidence and reason steeped in quantitative research. Let’s be courageous enough to hear the stories of lived experiences, to share our own stories, and to store all of those safely in our hearts. Passion and drive must come from a place of love for people, the world, and us, and utilizing it to work toward more socially just communities. But first, we must learn to live with our whole hearts, courageously.
These four things guided my growth and continue to move me forward. I constantly go back to these lessons to help me remain focused and grounded. Social justice work is hard, but you budding activist, you are not alone.
Continue to be the change!