Shaping youth to change communities
Young Justice Advocates (YJA) is a grassroots movement. It calls, equips and empowers youth to become leaders in transforming their congregations and communities through the power of Jesus Christ.
An initiative of the West Ohio Conference in partnership with the General Board of Church and Society, the YJA movement is deepening the discipleship of United Methodist youth through immersion experiences that connect service, justice, faith formation and leadership development.
YJA Leader Youth engage their churches in new ways and change their communities using community-organizing basics, specifically identifying justice issues, developing strategies to make real change, practicing relationship skills for one-on-one conversations and trainings, and learning the dynamics of power.
The last weekend in February, intergenerational teams of leader youth and adult mentors from United Methodist churches across West Ohio participated in a 25-hour community organizing training. They learned together the theology of the arc of justice, storytelling, expressions of power and how to build a team.
Responses from the participants – called "leader youth" – included:
- "This weekend really opened my eyes to social injustices. It made me realize that I can actually help and not just learn about them." – Will
- "It's seems that the people with the right ideas don't have the resources and the people who have the resources don't have the right ideas." – Allie
- "(Youth), in general, have been kept back from using our voice because we are put into stereotypes that ‘youth don't have any experience' and ‘youth don't know what the real world is like.' But in reality, we all have our own stories, and we've all had our own obstacles we've overcome. We each have unique ideas on how we can create justice in our own societies today." – Kaleigh
Leader youth who complete a Justice Immersion Weekend plan, prepare and lead the next immersion experience. They choose topics for training for which they have passion and a desire to teach. Among the topics chosen recently are #BlackLivesMatter, eco-sustainability, homelessness and poverty, human trafficking, food insecurity and disability.
As Young Justice Advocates expands to more churches, leader youth are exploring new areas of injustice and seeking ways to claim their own voice and take action toward transformative justice in their communities.
For more information about YJA, contact Rebecca Hug, West Ohio coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-689-7645. Hug is working with Church and Society staff to expand YJA to other annual conferences.