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Cultivating Solidarity with Youth on the Frontlines

Racism and economic injustice are brutal in a multitude of ways. Deja Garner, Director of Equity and Outreach at WAVE Educational Fund, knows that deadly gun violence in her Milwaukee community is one such way. Sadly, she has lost more people to gun violence than she can count on her fingers and toes.

Despite young Black men statistically being the most disproportionately impacted by gun violence and coming from a community that has experienced traumatic oppression for generations, they are rarely looked to for insight to more deeply understand what’s going on and where we need to go from here.

“It’s not intuitive to consider the youth voice’ says Garner. She explains it could be as simple as asking ‘Why do you think gun violence is such a big issue?’ ‘What do you think is needed?’. Children as young as 2nd and 3rd grade can have something to share.

And yet, it’s not enough to engage young people. The way we engage and interact with young people matters. Garner explains that young people need the space and opportunity to be themselves, to talk through their experiences in an unfiltered way without adults offering advice or judgment. One of the last things young people need are people in power coming in from the outside believing they have all of the solutions. Garner believes we must genuinely listen to what young people have to say.

Jaylin Stueber, Mentoring Connections Match Specialist at Just Dane, also believes the way we engage and interact with young people matters. Much of her work involves training adults in mentorship roles. One such program is called Drive to Succeed, a partnership with an organization called Operation Fresh Start. The Drive to Succeed program offers mentoring and drivers license attainment for young people ages 17 ½ - 21, who have not completed high school, do not currently have a license, and are involved in the legal system.

Just Dane’s onboarding for prospective mentors involves an acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of systemic racism. Stueber explains it is important for mentors to be open to continuously learning how systemic racism impacts life all around us. And how critical it is for us all to move forward from a place of cultural humility. During the mentorship training process, Just Dane shares an educational video about cultural humility. The three main tenets are as follows:

  • Lifelong learning and critical self reflection

  • Mitigating the power imbalances

  • Working to make institutions reflect these principles

WNPJ thanks Jaylin and Deja for their continued leadership. To learn more about their organizations visit and



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