A large crowd of march participants gather around the amphitheater in front of Oakland City Hall to hear speeches and other live performances. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Young people have been at the forefront of the current wave of activism unfurling across Oakland and the nation. From organizing Oakland’s largest protest to campaigning for a lower voting age in some local elections and advocating for the end of police in schools, youth activists have been leading for weeks. 

For teens and young adults looking for ways to get involved in the moment, make their communities better, or improve their organizing and leadership skills, we’ve rounded up five youth organizations working for a better future across a spectrum of issues, from education and civic engagement to anti-violence and criminal justice.

AYPAL

AYPAL got its start in 1998 to provide resources and address violence and truancy among Asian and Pacific Islander youth in Oakland. The organization’s primary focus has remained on schools and training API youth in leadership and community building, said Rhummanee Hang, AYPAL’s co-director. But the group is active on numerous fronts.

This year, the organization has worked to “disaggregate” data about API groups in Oakland to better understand what specific Asian communities are facing. For example, data about schools is often broken down by race, but doesn’t get more specific than “Asian.” AYPAL is pushing groups to dissect that data further, into specific groups like Indian, Filipino, or Malaysian.

They’re also busy reminding residents about the Census, a national population count that happens once every ten years and impacts political representation and government funding for local communities. “Now, with the pandemic and the uprising around the country, it’s even more critical to be involved in these issues,” she added.

Hang said the group is also looking at the impact of gentrification in API communities “and responding to South East Asian deportation with calls to abolish ICE, which has been amplified with calls to defund the police now.”

Current efforts:

AYPAL is coordinating a support fund to help families in its network and businesses in Chinatown. Along with financial aid, the fund will provide food to impacted communities, essential workers, and people experiencing homelessness. 

How to get involved:

AYPAL is looking for student interns to train over the summer and plan actions for the coming school year. While AYPAL’s focus is on Asian and Pacific Islander youth and culturally specific programs, students who do not identify as API are welcome, said Hang.

BAY-Peace

Youth activists with BAY-Peace organize against violence through programs and classes on political education, the arts, and healing work. The organization started in 2007 to provide alternatives to joining the military for Oakland youth.

“One unique thing about our organization is we’re the only entirely youth-led organization in Oakland that’s explicitly focused on militarization,” said director Leilani Salvador. 

While some BAY-Peace youth have been hesitant about joining protests in person because of the pandemic, Salvador said, they’ve been vocal about their support for the Black Organizing Project’s successful campaign to abolish school police at OUSD.

Current efforts:

BAY-Peace organizers are advocating for the military equipment ordinance, a proposal being considered by the civilian-led Oakland Police Commission that would require the police department to get approval before acquiring any military-grade equipment. Youth are also planning two virtual healing circles, Salvador said.

How to get involved:

BAY-Peace is recruiting teens and young adults to be youth leaders, who would be spokespeople for the organization and receive training in group facilitation and art skills. Young people who are interested can contact the organization online or by calling 510-863-1737.

Californians for Justice

Californians for Justice is a statewide youth activism group with offices on the ground in Oakland, San Jose, Fresno, and Long Beach that develops young organizers around issues of racial justice and education. The organization has supported the Schools and Communities First platform, a campaign to direct more funding to public education. 

Youth discussing current political and social issues during CFJ’s annual Summer Youth Leadership Academy. Credit: Daniel Lee, Californians for Justice

“Young people are leading the way. They care about what’s happening in their education,” said Justine Santos, the organizing director for Oakland. 

Much of their work was done in-person prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and the move to online organizing has made some thing harder, Santos added. “A lot just doesn’t feel the same doing it virtually. But if anyone is really good and quick with technology, it’s young people,” Santos said. “Even though there’s been some challenges in getting people together, there’s a moment here where young people are super activated.”

Current efforts:

Like other organizations, the Oakland camp of Californians for Justice advocated for the Black Organizing Project’s campaign to remove police from Oakland schools. The group has also been pushing for relationship-centered schools in Oakland, focused on cultivating meaningful relationships between students and educators and on teacher-retention efforts.  

How to get involved:

Interested students can reach organizers with Californians for Justice through the organization’s website, caljustice.org

Oakland Kids First

Oakland Kids First trains students to be leaders in their schools and communities with programs at Oakland Unified School District high schools. Earlier this year, youth leaders with Oakland Kids First worked with the Oakland City Council on an initiative to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections. 

Since the City Council approved the ballot initiative in May, youth with Oakland Kids First have been taking the summer to prepare for a publicizing campaign in the fall, when the initiative will be on the November ballot.

“We are doing issue education with our new and returning leaders and working to expand our campaign coalition,” said Lukas Brekke-Miesner, the executive director of Oakland Kids First.

Current efforts:

With the pandemic keeping many indoors, Oakland Kids First facilitators have been hosting virtual trainings on police violence and challenging white supremacy. The group also spoke out against the curfew imposed in early June and the Oakland Police Department’s use of tear gas.

“We are always examining issues of power, privilege, and oppression, but obviously moments of this magnitude provide openings to go deeper,” Brekke-Miesner said. 

How to get involved:

Those interested in joining Oakland Kids First for its summer programming can reach out on the organization’s social media pages. Students at Castlemont, Fremont, Oakland, and Oakland Technical high schools can participate in Oakland Kids First programs at those schools, including after-school leadership programs and peer mentoring.

Youth Together

Youth Together was established in 1996 for East Bay high schoolers to combat violence and inequality in their schools. Today, the organization trains students to create change on their campuses through political education and leadership development. 

Earlier this year, Youth Together had been collaborating with Eden Silva Jequinto and the Eastside Arts Alliance on anti-displacement efforts and planning a guerrilla theater production. When the coronavirus pandemic emerged, the production was put on hold, said Meesh Cabal, a site organizer with Youth Together. And when anti-police brutality protests erupted soon after, the focus changed.  

Students with Youth Together participate in a Black Lives Matter protest at Oakland Technical High School. Credit: Courtesy Youth Together

“When we’re talking about who’s disproportionately affected by COVID, who’s receiving anti-Black violence by the police state and how those things are connected, our students are upset, angry, and they don’t want their kids to go through this either or be numb in this situation,” Cabal said.

Current efforts:

Youth Together organizers have been participating in Oakland’s protests against racism and police brutality, and also pledged support for the Black Organizing Project’s campaign to eliminate police from Oakland schools.

How to get involved:

Youth Together is recruiting students who are eager to learn community organizing skills as interns for the 2020-2021 school year. High schoolers within Oakland Unified School District are eligible to apply. The paid internship is also open to those who are new to organizing, Cabal said.

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Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. She covered the 2019 Oakland Unified School District teachers’ strike as a breaking news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. More recently, she was an education reporter for the San Antonio Express-News where she covered several local school districts, charter schools, and the community college system. McBride earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, has held positions at the Palm Beach Post and the Poynter Institute, and is a recent Hearst Journalism Fellow.