Building on New Foundations > Standing Up, Reaching Out


Southwest Youth Collaborative

Hatem Abudayyeh
    Director, Arab American Action Network
Baheia Ahmad
    Clinical Supervisor, Metropolitan Family Services
Nina Farnia
Print this interview    Former Coordinator, Generation Y

The extract below is taken from  a group conversation in the offices of Chicago’s  Southwest Youth Collaborative.

Hatem: We offer “cultural competency” workshops and resources to schools and service providers. We’ve also made presentations in the court system, to judges and state attorneys. We’ve been speaking at the annual conferences of the court system for the past two years.

We’ve also been trying to get more actively involved in community education and community organizing, with legal assistance and referrals. We’ve had supportive relationships with two statewide immigrant rights coalitions, as well as support from the antiwar movement and AFSC.

Baheia: With the Latino community we’ve been working on local campaigns about social policy issues, that has been very successful.

Nina: The funding of social justice work is moving away from community organizations. There’s more professionalization, more emphasis on lobbying and legal advocacy. This has occurred to the detriment of organizations working with communities.

That’s the difference with the Southwest Youth Collaborative: it works in the community and with the community, in contrast to more professional advocates.

Hatem: We have to ask ourselves: what is the political space? How does it happen? Is it through electoral politics and progressive office holders, or through community-based organizations? The former approach doesn’t offer the space for progressive social activism around racial justice that there is in the latter.

All organizations, on all issues, feel a lot of fear and anxiety – but we have to begin breaking out of our shell. We have to raise our voices – about 9/11, about geopolitical issues.

Nina: Our idea of alliance building is not about trying to get others to come on board with our agenda. We’re trying to create space for ourselves in people-of-color movements around the world.

We can’t remain isolated – as a Black community, a Latino community, or an Arab community. This also means talking to Arab youth about what it means to be Black …