Training a new generation in social justice advocacy

Three Monmouth University students and social activists were among the participants in at a symposium held by New Jersey Institute for Social Justice aimed at helping college students organize to take political action.

Sophomore Taffy Lashley became active last year for a mistreated friend of a different ethnicity.

“If one person said, ‘Oh, like, I’m not going to do this because it doesn’t directly affect me,’ like, nothing will change. I feel like we need to put our self-interest aside sometimes,” said Lashley.

“I just want to make a change socially and environmentally. I care a lot about the environment,” said Davina Matadin, a sophomore at Monmouth University.

“The youth have a lot of voice and a say in their future, and I think that’s really powerful because, now more than ever, we need to say what we need to because all the stuff that’s going on, all the shootings, everything, and I feel like we need to have a voice,” said Tameah Young, a freshman at Monmouth University.

Young, Matadin and Lashley were among those eager to learn the “how-to” of social advocacy at the just-launched College and University Social Justice Coalition that’s tapping into a youth awakening after the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

“I just want to learn how to be more of a voice for people,” said Young.

“We are thrilled to be starting this college coalition,” said Retha Onitiri, campaign manager for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

The institute facilitated the session with its partners to train students and others in the do’s and don’ts of advocating for social justice issues.

“You have to have a passion to actually want to bring about policy reform, so it’s not your academic training that’s going to make you successful in this space. It’s your passion, your desire, your want to. The thing that nobody else can put in you. It has to be in you,” said James Williams, campaign organizer for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

Williams says whatever your cause, do your research and learn your facts with the big goal of educating your audience.

“Don’t allow people to move you off your spot. If you’re there to talk about racial injustice, you talk about racial injustice, because as you engage people throughout your communities, even on campus, they’ll try to move you to bring you to a place that they’re a little bit more comfortable,” said Williams.

Among the other tips, Williams says know your target audience and do “power mapping,” or find the people on the topic who can help you connect with those who can make the concrete change.

The Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey frequently partners with the Institute for social issue advocacy and at the training session.

“We have had social movements in this country that have affected real and lasting change, and we need the people who are directly impacted by the issues to be a part of the conversation and to really lead the way,” said Renee Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network.

The Social Justice Coalition says the session is about educating young minds on how to advocate the best tools in the business, not about indoctrinating them to any specific cause.

“You don’t have to dive in to our three pillars,” said Williams.

“I believe having a dialogue with people, even who have completely different opinions form you, is also important,” said Lashley.

“If I think something’s not right or if people aren’t being treated equally, or anything, then I’m not going to be persuaded,” said Young.

Young, Matadin and Lashley represent the new faces and voices of activism.