Carly Campbell will turn 24 Thursday. That’s May 24.
The repetition of numbers, Carly says, signifies “a lucky year, or a significant year, or a transformative year,” depending on whom you ask.
Either way, it’s a fortune of coincidence she’s passing on with a force of consciousness – and just one birthday wish: “All I want for my birthday is youth liberation!”
Carly, who is studying for degrees in education and Spanish at N.C. Central University, is asking birthday gift-givers to make a contribution to the Youth Organizing Institute, a summer program that educates and empowers young people ages 13-19 to organize in their schools and communities.
YOI also is a casualty of the sudden closing earlier this year of the Hargett Street YWCA, the very place Ella Baker worked when she helped organize the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee at Shaw University in the 1960s.
“After we began to realize the YWCA was not coming back, and that there was no focus in the news or by the board on the racial justice programs, we knew we’d have to preserve it ourselves,” Carly said.
To keep the program going on a grassroots level, Carly’s goal is to raise $3,000 by June 15, just in time for the third annual summer institute to begin in July, she said.
So far, Carly has raised $400 toward shoe-string-budget costs of student stipends, transportation, food and materials. If the $3,000 goal is met, a trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro could be added.
The group also welcomes all other donations, including space to hold the institute for an anticipated 10 high school students, and as many as seven high school graduates who have continued to organize for education equity, food justice, LGBTQ liberation and immigrant and workers’ rights.
There’s a lot of YOI work to preserve already.
YOI was launched in 2010, largely in response to a Wake County school board election that created a conservative majority ready to reverse the system’s diversity policy. In YOI’s three years, it has helped youth in Raleigh step into leadership roles as founders of N.C. HEAT, or Heroes Emerging Amongst Teens. The youth-led organization is known for its campaigns around education equity, including a boycott on Maxway and Roses stores owned by Art Pope, a major funder of the conservative Wake County school board.
It was YOI participants on the frontlines of a student-organized forum for Wake schools Superintendent Tony Tata. It was YOI leaders who organized and facilitated workshops at the Wayside Center’s Student Organizing Conference in Virginia. And it is often the YOI that provides English-Spanish interpreters for rallies and conferences.
In a conference call with Wayside Center staff, Carly recalls one of them saying, “Youth in Raleigh are an example for youth all over the region about how young people really can make a difference in their schools and communities.”
“That is just one avenue in which they have really stepped up and have a place at the table and are well-respected leaders,” she said.
Ain’t that good news?
Now that a new Wake school board has been seated, the YOI has set its focus on the School to Prison Pipeline and the criminalization of youth, especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, Carly told me. They’ll also continue work around bullying, LGBTQ issues, and immigration and justice in education. By summer’s end, participants will be able to develop, facilitate and organize their own workshops and campaigns.
“This has been some of the most engaging and rewarding work I have ever done,” she said.
This month also marks Carly’s eighth year as a community organizer. As a high school student in Charlotte during the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” and the war in Iraq, Carly, then 16, started working with the Youth Council at the Charlotte Coalition for Social Justice.
“It changed my life completely,” she said. She explained in an email that the Youth Council provided a space where young people could vent frustrations over the war, bullying and discrimination, “and actually be affirmed and listened to.”
“We were empowered to speak out and trained to organize around issues in our lives,” she continued.
Carly helped started a Gay-Straight Alliance at her school, which eventually had to go underground after some parents complained. She also marched in the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and took part in her first rally here in Raleigh.
“Becoming a youth organizer helped me develop into a confident, passionate and motivated young woman,” she said.
Sounds like a goal worth the aim – and a unique birthday gift to Carly!