By Siosaia Langi
Photos by David Ricketts
Youth programs are an important part of any community. It’s not just a place to put the kids when they have nothing to do after school. It’s a space where they can interact, learn, and grow from their peers. Two programs that I have had the honor of being a part of are Mestizo Arts and Activism and Youth Voices.
Mestizo Arts and Activism (MAA) is a youth program that helps high school students utilize art as a means to advocate for social change within their communities. Meeting at Jackson Elementary, MAA strives to connect youth to higher educational pathways. With ten years underneath its belt, MAA has helped many students see their communities through a critical lense. MAA strives to combine the unique experiences that youth have with the untold histories and stories that have shaped their own realities. In this there is empowerment. When youth know their roots and the political implications that it plays in their lives, they can create deeper, more meaningful change in their communities.
Youth Voices is a program at the Hartland Youth Center in Glendale. It is a space where high school youth can raise their voices and be heard, where they can come together and discuss their experiences in school, community, and culture. Currently in its second year, participants in Youth Voices have been spending time discussing the ways in which language, power, and access to education impacts them as individuals as well as the Glendale community at large. Now that the program is heading into the spring semester, the students are brainstorming and preparing a creative project to be carried out before the end of the school year.
Mestizo Arts and Activism and Youth Voices are both supported partnerships through University Neighborhood Partners. Both programs are committed to west side youth and are places of self-discovery and empowerment. For these programs, there is more than meets the eye. If you take a peek you will find that it is a safe space where youth can actively share their thoughts and opinions on what they experience in their own environments, namely Glendale and Rose Park and all the neighborhoods in between.
Being a part of these programs, I’ve not only seen the youth grow but I have also seen my own personal growth. I feel that I have grown up a lot with the students. Every year that I continue to mentor and do community work, I have an increased understanding of this type of work and realize how much it is needed. There is value in giving youth a space where they can vocalize their opinions about their community. It is valuable for youth to articulate their experiences through the arts.
In the coming months, it is the hopes of facilitators in both MAA and Youth Voices to come together and have conversations of what they see happening on the west side. The different locations of these programs give an opportunity to connect west-side neighborhoods – Rose Park and Glendale. Having youth talk and discuss their experiences with each other and learn side by side leads to growth and trust. This can lead to positive change. If you know who your neighbors are, there is no need for prejudice or fear. With those out of the way, there is more room for understanding and love.
Siosaia Langi is a Glendale resident, graduated last May from the University of Utah with a degree in Sociology & Ethnic Studies. He currently works as a facilitator for Youth Voices, which is supported by UNP.