by Alexa Broida
Director, Mitzvah Corps
The 2016 election will go down as one of the most polarizing in history. In the lead-up to November, troubling campaign rhetoric inspired fear in many, but, we hope, a call to action in us. Regardless of your political affiliation, we have an obligation not only to come together, but to work together in the pursuit of justice.
For those currently in high school, Mitzvah Corps offers an opportunity to dive headfirst into the most pressing and timely social justice issues facing the world today. Here’s how we do it:
#1. Work With Marginalized Communities
A marginalized community is one that has been pushed to the outer edges of society, and is un- or under- represented in areas such as healthcare, education, culture, and politics. Communities are marginalized based on factors which may include religious affiliation, racial identify, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and more. Many of these communities have expressed concern about the impact that the ripple effect of the campaign rhetoric, and future legislative action, might have on them.
With Mitzvah Corps, participants have a chance to interact with these communities in a meaningful way, not only to provide hands-on work, but to listen to their stories, respect their perspectives, and give a voice to those who deserve to be heard and valued.
#2. Meet With Local Leaders
Many of us feel inspired to act, and if it’s the first time that we’re dipping our toes into activism, we may not know where to start, and it can feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. In most cases, however, while our interest in taking action on these issues might be new to us, there are others who have paved the way.
Local leaders in government, business, nonprofit, movement, and communities have a lot to offer us, and Mitzvah Corps creates opportunities to connect with them. It’s important to understand the context of issues in each unique community, and partnering with people who have been working on social justice initiatives is a key component to supporting their sustainable efforts.
#3. Get Involved in Grassroots Efforts
While politicians and lawmakers wield a certain amount of control, meaningful, day-to-day change comes when individuals adjust their attitudes and interactions with one another, and when ordinary members of local communities come together to advance their causes. When regular people take a stand on something they believe it, it’s a grassroots effort.
These are the initiatives that Mitzvah Corps primarily focuses on, giving participants the chance to get involved on a local level, to engage in discussions, build relationships, listen to differing points of view, and enact real change, one person at a time.
#4. Gain a Wider Perspective
One big takeaway from this election is that there are people in this country whose voices have not been heard. The speculation about the evolution of this marginalization will continue, likely for many years to come, but the importance of stepping outside of our echo chambers cannot be understated.
By bringing participants out of their comfort zones, by exposing them to many, often conflicting, points of view, and by encouraging deep reflection and debate, Mitzvah Corps creates an environment that requires an assessment of the world at large.
#5. Build a Skill Set to Lead Change Initiatives at Home
Most important, action and advocacy doesn’t exist in a vacuum; they aren’t things you do to check off a list, or to feel like you’ve made an impact in a particularly tumultuous time in our nation’s history. Real activism is ingrained in how we live our lives, how we approach relationships with others, how we make decisions, and how we view our role in the world around us. To be sustainable, these actions must be relevant and translatable.
Mitzvah Corps equips teens with the skills to return home not only to continue fighting for the issue they learned about on their program, but to understand how and why issues manifest as they do, how to find local people and organizations that are working to change them, and the ways in which they can adjust the arc of daily life to make a lasting difference.
Registration for Mitzvah Corps’ summer 2017 is underway. Do you know a teen who wants to make a difference? Introduce us! Participants who sign up by January 5, 2017 will receive at least $200 off the cost of their program.
Can’t wait until summer? Teens and youth professionals are invited to join us in Chicago, February 17-20, at NFTY Convention for opportunities to network, learn, and be inspired.