“We are the future!” DataCenter and SOUL at CTWO

By Haruki Eda, DataCenter Fall 2010 Intern

Miho and I, as a new DataCenter intern, co-facilitated this workshop during the National Youth Organizing Training Institute (NYOTI) by School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL), hosted at Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) in Oakland.  A total of 15 youth organizers from the Bay Area, New York City, Boston, and Arizona actively engaged in activities and shared in discussions, to learn the why and how of using research for their work.  Our aim was to demystify research and investigation, and to reframe it as a strategic tool to build the power behind their voices in campaigns.

We began with a bingo game that reaffirmed we are already using research every day, and that our communities are experts.  “Of course we are experts in our lives, we know that! But what does society say about youth of color?” Miho asked.  “Problems,” “criminals,” “stupid,” the participants replied.  When Miho asked how they and their own communities see themselves as youth of color, however, we heard “We are the future!” “Strong!” “Beautiful!” “Smart!”… It was very powerful.

But why this gap?  “There are three types of knowledge in this world,” Miho explained, “experiential, community, and mainstream knowledge.”  In fact, mainstream knowledge is more valued than the knowledge in our communities and everyday lives because the mainstream institutions have more legitimacy in addition to, as the participants pointed out, “money!”

Mainstream prejudice against youth of color renders their voices invalid from the get-go in many cases, regardless of the truth of their arguments.  Policies are often informed by what the mainstream perceptions and notions are of youth of color, not what they know about themselves.  These policies criminalize youth and perpetuate violence and neglect against youth of color in low-income communities.  It takes political power to refine policies.  How do we build that political power to make it happen?  “By using research strategically – to build legitimacy behind our voice!”  Now the why of research was crystal clear to all of us.

Next step was the how to do research, by identifying the need for information tied to a specific goal, then assessing the best way to get it.  We asked the participants to match up cards to figure out the effective, not necessarily right or wrong, way to get the information we want.

Miho also drew a picture of a crock-pot of beef stew, asking how she can feed her baby brother.  “How about a ladle?” “Stir and scoop it!” “Slowly, with love!” And voila!  To the surprise of participants, these were actually the ‘Three Core Elements’ of research: figuring out the 1) sources (in the pot), 2) tools (ladle), and finally, the 3) methods (stir slowly, with love).

We then discussed packaging the information strategically for the target audience.  For youth and communities of color, it is often critical to not only use research for their campaigns but also present it in a way that it carries the necessary political legitimacy, with numbers and citations to back up their arguments, especially when faced with decision-makers in mainstream institutions.

When the time was up, we left them with ample resources and handouts, including the popular ‘Research Bingo’ game, of which many people got multiple copies to train more youth back home.

I felt empowered and inspired by the passion and hope that the participants were exuding all around the CTWO building, and I am honored to have been part of that particular moment.  Thank you for your amazing work to SOUL, CTWO, and all the participants!