By Zachary Herman
History of Social Justice
People have been coming together to work for their collective sense of justice in every part of history. The practice is nothing new or revolutionary. The work of social justice is part of many people’s religious storytelling, and secular mythos. The Jewish principles of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam, the Christen gospel of Matthew, the French revolution, and the Arab Spring are all examples of communities mobilizing towards their social justice. The trick is getting people to see.
Social Justice Today at the UNCA Center for Diversity Education
The work of the Center for Diversity Education (http://www.diversityed.org/) is teaching the youth in communities around Asheville to see, and giving them the tools to interact with, a system of oppression that would happily leave them blind. The work is in two parts. In one part we teach the fish how to see the water. In the other part we teach the water to see the fish.
Teaching youth in oppressed communities to see their oppression and empower their activism is one of the core goals of the Center for Diversity Education. We do this work using a variety of approaches: connecting people to their histories, empowering youth and young adult change agency, and serving as a pipeline for young adults looking to work in social justice.
We connect communities to their stories, through People Not Property, through the work of ASCORE (Asheville student committee on Racial equality) and through mobile cultural history exhibits. We empower youth to be community change agents through our Youth Diversity Leadership conference called Me2We (https://diversityed.unca.edu/me2we). Our undergraduate interns work at the Center helping to coordinate programing for the Center while gaining experience that will make them competitive in the job market. This is how we teach fish to see water.
The other half of the work is teaching water to see the fish. A system of oppression will shift towards justice even faster if the system can be made to see their oppressiveness and then work to cast it off. Ally education is crucial to the sustainable success of social justice. Our work on this side of social justice uses a few different methods: our diversity trainings for Student Organizations at UNCA, our Holiday Road shows for Elementary and middle school students, and through our inclusion of ally groups in Me2We.
Opening the Eyes of the Community
Our Diversity trainings are hour long experiential education-based workshops that help students with privileged identity get a glimpse of systemic oppression. Our Holiday road shows teach children around the Asheville area fall and winter holidays from cultures around the world, teaching students that Christmas is not the only winter holiday. Me2We uses a caucus and ally model to organize our students as a way to teach about the intersecting and complex nature of oppressed and privileged identities.
There can be no work toward justice unless people can be made to see that injustice is happening. The work of justice cannot be maintained unless youth are given the tools to maintain it. People all over Asheville, Western North Carolina, the South, and the nation are coming together to collectively fight for justice of all kinds. The work of the Center is to help maintain that justice and help move justice forward by giving fish and water the tools to see each other.