Chanting “youth united will never be defeated” and “youth need labor,” several members of Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association and local students marched for youth job funding at the eleventh annual Dreams of Our Future rally in Boston Thursday.
The march was organized by “I Have a Dream,” a statewide coalition of youth organizers, and aimed to “uplift the voices of youth of color and other marginalized young people,” according to the group’s website.
Protestors crowded the Boston Common Bandstand to participate in testimonies and performances focused on youth jobs and juvenile justice reform. In speeches to the crowd, U.S. Representative Ayanna S. Pressley (D-Mass.) and Mass. State Representative Elizabeth “Liz” Miranda (D) backed ralliers’ calls for job funding and told personal stories about how they helped support their families as teenagers.
“It’s a proven fact that young people are the number one supporters of small businesses in your communities,” Miranda said in her speech. “When we invest in youth, we lift up our entire Commonwealth.”
Participants then marched through the Common to the State House, where they met with Cambridge, Boston, and state legislators. PBHA brought several middle school and high school students to meet with legislators and practice advocating for themselves. PBHA President Cecilia A. J. Nunez ’20 said the meetings were a valuable learning experience.
“A lot of them talked about how they didn’t even really know who their legislator was, and to go into their offices and talk to their staff people about what was important to them was really fulfilling,” Nunez said.
The PBHA cohort advocated specifically for full funding of the After-School and Out-of-School-Time Quality Grant, which supports K-12 term-time and summer activities including PBHA’s Summer Urban Program. They also petitioned legislators to fund the Summer Jobs Program for At-Risk Youth, which uses state funding to employ teenagers.
According to PBHA Director of Programs Kerry J. McGowan, PBHA has participated in the youth rally every year since the event’s inception.
“We benefit from having the government put resources towards youth jobs because we hire kids during the summer and through the school year also, partially funded by cities,” McGowan said. “We know that youth jobs have a high return on investment because, especially in programs like [SUP] where they’re not just doing clerical or busywork, they’re getting mentorship from undergrads, they’re getting relatable job skills, hard and soft.”
Jang H. Lee ’19, co-director of PBHA’s Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment Extension, said he was impressed that the rally put student voices at the forefront.
“I think a big part of PBHA is making sure that we’re uplifting youth voices, and as someone that works with youth in Dorchester, which is an under-resourced community, it was really important to show up as a sign of solidarity,” Lee said.
Melissa C. Pierre-Philippe, a high school member of PBHA’s Leaders! Program, said it was critical to get students involved in advocacy early.
“I learned it’s very important to not disregard people our age because we’re the next generation,” Pierre-Philippe said.
“We’re going to take over when everybody else is old so I think it’s important we get involved now so we know what’s going on and that we aren’t lost when we’re older and have actual responsibilities,” she added.
—Staff writer Jenna X. Bao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.