By: Keyla Guaman
New York City, NY
Learning and living through a pandemic leads us to see many realities that may have gone unnoticed pre-COVID. For Layla Hussein, a co-founder of Journals Of Color, that reality was the lack of teen programs in the Bronx. Moreover, the lack of programs created by Bronx teens. “There was a lack of programs in the Bronx to even instill a safe space for teens in a borough that is historically marginalized, with some of the highest COVID rates today, among additional systemic issues,” she says. Hussein explains how difficult it was to find a “safe space for Bronxites” and allow them to “hone [their] writing, art, and photography skills.”
Another student, Amanda Reynolds, the co-founder of Young Idealist, says that the pandemic helped her identify the importance of mental health, notably for BIPOC youth in her school community. “The mental health of BIPOC students can be drastically different from those of our white peers,” Reynolds says. “We saw it in the way the murdering of black men and women became trends and how ignorance became the main choice for younger white ‘liberals.’” Luckily, along with these harrowing epiphanies, change came as well.
For some students, the COVID-19 pandemic was the last straw, helping them realize enough is enough and equipping them with the tools necessary to take action. The free time and the virtual medium of communication that emerged during the pandemic enabled many young people to begin their journey in activism. Hussein decided to tackle the inequities in her Bronx community, finding that most well-funded writing programs were located in Manhattan and, for many Bronx residents, travelling to another borough isn’t easy. Thus, Hussein decided to create her own teen literary magazine: Journals Of Color. “ My activism journey began during COVID because of the accessibility it provided me to safely create a project with as many members as I aspire, regardless of our locations,” Hussein noted. “During quarantine, my classes would typically end early, and instead of travelling back home on the bus, I would use extended time for myself to explore new platforms to leverage certain projects I was thinking of starting,” she adds.
Taking advantage of virtual meetings, digital platforms, and the free time gave Hussein the opportunity to create Journals of Color. She was especially empowered by other organizations, “who were also taking their rage of national injustices to create a safe platform for BIPOC teens.” Hussein says, “I sought to do the same. Knowing that teens who looked like me, created platforms at a young age, motivated me to channel my innovation and do the same.” Journals of Color has grown into a teen literary magazine that launches a monthly issue focused on showcasing the talent of Bronx teens. Not only is the representation of the largely black and brown population important, but necessary because of the Bronx’s constant misrepresentation in the media.
Another group of students from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts started Young Idealist in response to the rising racial injustice in the summer of 2020. Reynolds says, “After George Floyds murder, we considered the isolation we felt in our [primarily white institution] and decided it was time to take a stand. There was a lack of action from our school regarding discriminatory culture as well as from our own student body, and we were tired of waiting for someone else to take action in our names.”
Like Journals of Color, Young Idealist took advantage of the virtual space to create peer-led support groups and foster a safe space where students can engage in discussions about issues that matter to them. Young Idealists is the result of what it feels like when their own school administration is not doing enough to respond to times of racial injustice and discriminatory behavior. Along with their peer-led support groups, they also work to identify and address specific incidents where students have been racially targeted by faculty or other students in their school. Reynolds and Young Idealists hope to bring these instances to the attention of the school administration and ensure that the staff and student body are being held accountable for their actions, and establish a safer school community for all.
Reynolds and Hussein’s creation of Young Idealists and Journals of Color, respectively, are not only testaments to the power that young people hold as agents of change, but the ability we have to find hope in the midst of an international tragedy.