Home News Center Anti-Racism Resource: Building Power for an Anti-Racist Youth Justice Movement

Anti-Racism Resource: Building Power for an Anti-Racist Youth Justice Movement

November 3, 2022
Maya Thakur and Courtney M. McSwain

The youth justice advocacy community’s annual celebration of Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM) in October just came to a close. YJAM is a month dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring action towards transforming the youth legal system. For YJAM 2022, a focus was placed on amplifying the voices of youth directly impacted by the legal system. The 2022 theme “Justice Is___.” placed an emphasis on hearing what youth view as a true vision of justice and creating opportunities for youth to share their visions with policy decision makers and the world. One of the most important lessons we take away from YJAM 2022 is that the power of our movement rests in the communities who most deeply understand the harm and abuses of the legal system.  
To realize a true system of justice grounded in community-based healing and trauma-informed care, our movement must undertake a power building strategy that intentionally develops an organized base of those directly impacted by the legal system who have the answers as to what can transform and drive change for the better. Intentional power building ensures youth and families with lived experience in these harmful systems have the tools and capacity to lead the movement for change at all levels.  

Power building is also an essential part of operating as a movement grounded in anti-racism. Operating through an anti-racist lens means we must make ourselves accountable to the communities disproportionately harmed by the issues we are trying to address - namely youth and families from Black, Brown and Indigenous communities; Disability communities; and communities most impacted by poverty. Moreover, anti-racist organizing requires a deconstruction of existing power dynamics often concentrated within mostly white-led institutions and moving to power sharing with organizations grounded in community leadership and voices.  

So how do we intentionally incorporate power building within our work?  

The USC’s Equity Research Institute established a three-part framework of community power-building, which includes:   

  1. Making sure we are setting our agenda with communities and examining the root causes of our advocacy issue in order to inform solutions and build collective action

  2. Building community momentum to achieve program and policy wins

  3. Investing in leadership development so that the movement becomes sustainable and accountable to impacted communities. Sustainability also includes deepening narrative and culture change work.  

This is one power building framework, but there are others (see resources below). A great place to start is by evaluating our organizations to find ways where we can deepen our connection and more intentionally hold ourselves accountable to impacted youth, families and communities. Below, we offer additional resources.

Power-Building Resources 

Why Ongoing Power-Building Matters and How Every Nonprofit Can Do It, by Louisa Hackett and Mohan Sikka. Nonprofit Quarterly, May 18, 2021. Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • In Nonprofit Quarterly,  Louisa Hackett and Mohan Sikka explain the vital role nonprofit organizations play in electoral engagement, local advocacy, and mobilizing their communities to build a better world, as well as the steps they can take to develop that power. 

Building Community Power For Health, Justice, and Racial Equality. The Praxis Project, Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • In this article, the Praxis Project breaks down their community power framework, including healing collective traumas, retaining people and resources, developing community and solidarity networks, basebuilding and investing in the community, prioritizing education, learning new skills, and deepening knowledge, and cultivating community leadership. 

Finding a Way, Blazing a Trail: A Foundation Learning How to Build and Share Power, by Tia Martinez of Forward Change. Center for the Study of Social Policy, April 21, 2022. Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • Tia Martinez, CEO of Forward Change, highlights five key lessons learned during the Building Healthy Communities initiative: the importance of empowering community members to define their priorities, the necessity of collaborating with a network of allies, the crucial role of healing and personal transformation, how community-led communications strategies can create narrative change, and the changing relationship between funders and grantees.

Building Power with Alicia Garza. Finding Our Way Podcast. Published on August 29, 2022. Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • In this podcast, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza discusses the development of power, how to wield it for good, and what it takes to make lasting change. A must-listen for anyone curious about what it means to be powerful– and what it takes to change the world.

A Primer on Community Power, Place, and Structural Change, by USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute. Lead Local Collaborative Research Project, lead-local.org. Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • This primer highlights the necessity of building momentum to develop long-term power, addressing structural and systemic inequalities as well as individual policies, and developing action-oriented strategies to empower communities. Alongside a detailed analysis of the process of social change, it discusses community organization strategies, pathways to structural change, and the long-term possibilities of community power-building.

Strategies for Building Power and Youth Leadership. Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing, 1997. Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • This report summarizes the highlights of the 1997 Funders Briefing on Youth Organizing, a discussion between youth organizers and grantmakers on the unique challenges of youth organizing and the powerful role it can play in community development.

Leading Locally: A Community Power-Building Approach to Structural Change. University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute, September 2020. Accessed on October 31, 2022.

  • In this analysis, USC’s Equity Research Institute explores how community power “catalyzes, creates, and sustains conditions for healthy communities” through the analysis of forty power-building organizations throughout the United States.

So You Wanna Build a Movement: An Equation for Building Progressive Power, by Taj James. Movement Strategy Center, 2005.

  • This article discusses four key factors crucial to building a progressive movement: building ideological, organizational, electoral, and media power, confronting prejudice and structural racism, shifting public perception, and mobilizing public will.

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