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Janiece Mackey is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism (YAASPA) headquartered in Colorado. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and learn more at yaaspa.org.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
YAASPA endeavors to build the self-efficacy of youth who desire to make change in our communities, pursue social science degrees, and social justice careers. We do this work via programs, advocacy, and community organizing.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
The Colorado Paradox is the phenomena that only 25% of 9th graders will earn a college degree and many are in need of remediation. In light of this, there have been career pathways created in order to build youth’s self-efficacy in business, fine arts, health sciences, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Many of the decisions to create these career pathways have been from a top-down approach and simply based upon the labor market. Consequently, there have been few endeavors to cultivate the self-efficacy for youth who desire to pursue a social justice career. Hence, to pursue degrees and careers in the social sciences. This is a gap that YAASPA mitigates via community organizing, advocacy and our programs which are: a course entitled “Civic Engagement in Community and Career,” scholarship fairs, social sciences and policy institutes and a partnership with Community College of Aurora Foundation to award students a two-year scholarship who are interested in pursuing social science degrees
Our motto is “Redefining the Standards to Pull Down the Barriers!” and our mission is to encourage and support disengaged and underserved youth to participate in their communities socially and politically, in order to make changes within the community. To create political and social awareness regarding issues that directly and/or adversely affects our communities, it is necessary to be educated. Through activism and education, we can redefine the standards that have been placed upon us.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We are shaping and shifting a youth’s academic and career self-efficacy, civic literacy, civic engagement, and racial identity development. Here are some youth quotes that illustrate our impact:
“I liked how everything she went through put things in perspective.”
“Learning about myself will help me decide on a career I enjoy.”
“It was nice being self-aware of what I appreciate most from people.”
“I learned how to have a courageous conversation.”
“This class was very interesting and I learned how change takes time.”
“Really fun and new way to think about my interests.”
“I learned how to have a courageous conversation.”
“The most memorable moment was when I was asking questions to the college students about their challenges and stuff. [And] the long discussion with the professor was very educative and opened my eyes.”
“It was nice to hear about something I am interested in.”
“I really liked learning how we can come together as a community and make a change.”
“I really enjoyed learning that I have power. I can make a difference by being a leader.”
We are also making strides with policy with the release of our Concurrent Enrollment Racial Equity report which indicates we need to better support and engage Black students. Youth also led the way, alongside partnering organizations, to get a yes vote from the RTD board for a 70% discounted youth pass beginning January of 2019.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
I have built my career of service and leadership from my narrative. I have been involved in politics since I was 17-years-old and noticed that I was often the only youth of color. I knew youth of color either weren’t interested in civic engagement or they didn’t have a conduit to civically engage in our communities. Due to being one of a few Blacks within academic, political, and professional spaces, I created an organization entitled Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism (YAASPA). Due to my converging interests in education and policy, I also teach Ethnic Studies and Political Science as an Adjunct Faculty. I am also pursuing a PhD in Higher Education with a Public Policy and Curriculum and Instruction emphasis at the University of Denver. By reflecting upon my counter-narrative, I was able to place “my story” into a larger sociopolitical context that reflects not just “my story,” but that of many youth of color. I desire to deepen, further develop, and expand “healing praxis” for more youth and professionals within the public service sector. I believe that those who commit to transformational justice and equity must validate and innovate academic and career experiences that will sustain, retain, and rejuvenate youth and professionals of color who commit to “transformational praxis.”
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Our scope of work will allow us to model our mission in action. The blending of education and activism is necessary due to the socialization of our youth in schooling systems that did not have students of color in mind. With that said, we must do the necessary educational work through our courses to support students in better understanding themselves amidst our sociopolitical environment and how the racialization of their experiences impacts their activism. Without this necessary time and space for students, their activism can be damaging and negatively impacted. Furthermore, their activism stemming from their lived experiences is critical to the work so that they can be a partner in leading YAASPA’s policy footprint and interactions in civic spaces as well.
We hope for our students to be confident in bringing their full authentic selves into civic and educational spaces to “redefine the standards to pull down the barriers.” In doing so, we can change the ecosystem to not simply reflect more compositional diversity, but also diversity of thought with racial, civic, and educational equity in mind centering those most impacted by inequity.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
We are always in need of volunteer support, programming connections within the area of social sciences, and financial resources.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
One of the major challenges is that our youth are being socialized into a colorblind K12 system often times which can make it difficult for them to remove the veil and lean into race consciousness. Colorblind racism sometimes has an impact on navigating school-based partnerships as well.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
Be your authentic self in your journey and lean into a willingness to engage in self-care. We must do our own self-work within ourselves and with our teams if we expect those we partner with in community to do so. We must model what transformational justice with healing looks like alongside and within community and have a willingness to work in solidarity with a collectivist mindset rather than working in a silo because our youth and communities deserve this. Lastly, we must ensure there is reciprocity built into your work internally and externally with partnerships, so that a sense of interdependence is maintained.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Please contact us to volunteer your time, lend your expertise for our programs, and/or donate at yaaspa.org.
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