Youth activists call for increased jobs funds
Youth activists gathered in front of the State House Feb. 18 for the 13th Annual “Injustice was Never Normal Youth Rally” to promote youth jobs, housing opportunities and better education for Massachusetts students. About 20 speakers and sign-holders from Boston, Revere and towns across Massachusetts were led by I Have a Future, a statewide collective of youth leaders dedicated to increasing youth jobs and reducing mass incarceration.
At the socially distanced rally, youth leaders took turns in front of the State House steps sharing their stories and leading chants.
Jonathan Narsoj, a youth leader with I Have a Future detailed the group’s main demand: $23 million for Youthworks, the state-funded youth employment program. Last year, they were able to increase funding from $16 million to $20 million for fiscal year 2021.
“This funding allows youth from low-income families to get paid to work at private-sector companies that typically would not hire young people,” Narsoj said.
I Have a Future is also demanding that student resource officers, police officers designated specifically to one or more schools, be removed.
“While a lot of state law has been changed, saying that schools do not need police in their buildings, many schools, especially ones with a high density of students of color, continue to face an issue of over-policing inside their schools,” he continued.
To address the effects of incarceration of young people, the group is supporting laws that expunge juvenile records for former offenders who haven’t committed a crime after some time.
They also have specific demands on housing and education. IHAF supports stronger eviction moratoriums at the state and federal level, as well as eviction sealing so that landlords cannot deny housing based on previous evictions — a concern expressed at last year’s rally as well. The HOMES Act, sponsored by City Councilor Lydia Edwards, would prevent minors from being listed on eviction records, preventing the evictions from following youths into adulthood.
As for education, there are several acts and demands, Narsoj explained. There is the Act Relative to Healthy Youth for accurate, inclusive and consent-based sex education; the I Am bill for menstrual product access in schools and other public locations; and the Fulfilling Education Promise to hold legislators accountable to money previously promised to schools.
“Lastly is student loans. We are calling for the increase of student loan assistance, assistance and eventually wiping student loan debt,” Naroj said.
Rally leaders also spoke to their own experiences that inspired these demands. Naroj described an incident where he was approached by officers while playing basketball with his friends. Dimple Rana, co-founder of Revere Youth In Action, spoke to the difficulties of running a youth program during the pandemic.
Another youth leader, Chaimaa Hossaini, explained how student loans hinder her success.
“As a college student from a low-income family who works two jobs to pay off student loans … student loans are a leech to those who are paying them off and a barrier to pursue other things outside of work,” she said.
Hossaini works with Revere Youth in Action as a public health fellow and is also a sophomore at Suffolk University.
“As someone who’s trying to go to medical school, who is going to be in $400,000 in debt, we need that student loan erased,” she said.
Virtue Kofa, a leader from For the People Boston, another youth movement focused on defunding the Boston Police Department, gave a speech supporting I Have a Future’s demands.
Referencing the African concepts of Maat, or truth and justice, and Maafa, or disaster, Kofa explained how justice can be achieved by the youth.
“Due to the global pandemic, where Maafa is mass homelessness, Maat is housing for all. Where Maafa is poverty and capitalism, Maat is redistribution. And where Maafa is the school-to-confinement pipeline, Maat is a community-centered and equitable education, free of police,” she said.
The rally continued later that day on Zoom, where IHAF members encouraged attendees to call their state legislators about these issues and report back on who is in support and who may need more convincing.