STORY #13: Social Justice Pillar
“Social justice is the idea that human beings, institutions, and systems can be reborn and reshaped to make marginalized groups better off without making others worse off.”– Johneé
Johneé Wilson is a program facilitator and National Training Organizer at One Common Unity. She creates interactive and dynamic learning experiences for middle and high school youth—as well as educators, activists, and organizers who enroll in the annual Fly By Light National Training. Here, Johneé shares her story, what social justice means to her as well as how the pandemic has given her the opportunity to facilitate virtual peace practice that meets the needs of students from diverse backgrounds.
The work that I do creates space to engage young people in open and honest dialogue. Together we explore the injustices within our communities and globally. But, I am only a guide. It is truly the students who critically examine and self-reflect on issues centering around race, gender, identity, and actionize social justice campaigns, workshops, and assemblies to share the information with their peers. Earlier this month our One Common Unity Organizing Troupe hosted a virtual Black Lives Matter assembly. They facilitated the outreach. They designed the slides and did the activity plan. People showed up and were positively impacted. Participants engaged in discussions about performative activism, white privilege, and BLM. These young people are brilliant and disarming. The audience responded and shared their stories with us. It was great!
Dancing for Social Justice
The Fly By Light Dance Party started at the top of the pandemic when the world shifted into a virtual paradigm. We started working from home. Students began online classes. Internet usage went up 110% and mental health cases increased by 69%. Physical movement became a salient focus in my online programming facilitation. Yoga. Stretching. Then dancing. Next, I proposed the Friday Dance Party to our leadership team and they thought it was a phenomenal idea. So, I started a “movement for the movement” campaign in April 2020.
The dance parties are themed to bridge the gap between movement (physical) and the movement (for social justice). Last week we hosted the Lorde and Morrison dance party to celebrate the birthdays of two legendary social justice activists, Black feminists, and scholars- Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde. Last month we hosted an inauguration dance party to welcome the new presidential administration into the White House. We’ve done superhero themes to affirm the unique gifts—or superpowers—that each tap into day-to-day to break glass ceilings. Two of my favorite themes were the “Last Dance Party of 2020” and the “John Lewis Happy Dance Party” right after his transition. It’s important to apply a social justice theme to each one, so people can know what they are dancing for, although we understand each person shows up with unique intentions tailored to their individual needs.
Young people are burning tables and building new tables. My friend and co-facilitator, Tyler, and I led a discussion with the youth activists using the table as a metaphor for justice—like “a seat at the table.” What is your table? Does it exist? Is it serving you? Does it need to be deconstructed? Burned? Does it need to be built or rebuilt? The reference was inspired by the Denver Team’s poem “Feminism” at the Brave New Voices finals in 2014.
“It’s important to drive positive impact and change because young people depend on it.”– Johneé
FLY BY LIGHT – YOUTH HIGHLIGHT – SOCIAL JUSTICE
In celebrating OCU’s #20Stories20Years we’re highlighting two Fly By Light youth that exemplify each pillar: Artistic Expression, Social-Emotional Learning, Health and Wellness, Environmental Stewardship, and Social Justice. Our featured youth for Social Justice are lion and Morgan.
Fly By Light’s Social Justice Pillar “empowers students to take action in their communities and become more aware of social justice issues in the world today. We provide a space where students learn about local and global challenges, while also gaining support, mentorship, and direction to become leaders. As students explore their personal experiences with injustice, they make commitments to positively change their communities through nonviolent action and conflict transformation.”
In the 8th grade, I joined the Fly By Light-sponsored GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance, a group to support and connect LGBTQ+ students and allies) at my middle school. I also got involved with Peer Mediation through Fly By Light at the same time because it was the one thing that actually made me feel good at school, like, I could be myself.
The Peer Mediation group met twice a week to receive training on restorative justice, and to actively work to support staff and administration in resolving conflicts throughout the school. I later went on retreats and stayed involved through the Organizing Troupe.
Social Justice in Fly By Light looks like Organizing Troupe. We all come from different backgrounds, we listen, we treat each other as equals and like family because we really love each other. I would tell all the younger people to join Fly By Light right now because we are family. Personally, I love Fly By Light because it is my safe space and you guys make me happy. If you’re thinking about joining Fly By Light, don’t think about it—just do it.
Before Fly By Light I always second-guessed myself, and I wouldn’t push myself to my full potential. I still second guess myself now, but it’s better than it used to be. Without Fly By Light, I’d just be average but I’m not average no more! I have so many ideas in my head. Before, I wouldn’t say them out loud or even write them down. Now, I know it’s better to get it out, make them into an art piece, to express myself. As for what’s next for me, since I’m still young right now, hopefully, I do graduate high school and don’t drop out because I’m sick of this [distance learning]. Hopefully, I persevere through high school and stop caring what people think. I want to keep working on myself, my art, and grow as a person.
I don’t necessarily want people to know my name, but I want people to think of me like they were super cool, I want to be like them. I want to make an impact. For example, if I was in charge of D.C., it would be a better place. I would change the gentrification, I know you have to make money, but D.C. natives, c’mon now, we can’t be kicking them out, we gotta stay here, this is Chocolate City, period.
“I have had the privilege to witness the artist activist lion under many names, grades and roles. Everywhere they go, lion leads with creativity, compassion, authenticity and a calm, accepting attitude that gives others permission to be their authentic selves.”– FBL Organizing Troupe Co- Facilitator, Tyler.
I immediately fell in love with Fly By Light, because I was an activist myself and I felt like here my voice was being heard, and there were actually people who were taking my voice into consideration. I kept going back to retreats the next year and the year after that. I remember on the way home from the retreat in 2019, we were on the bus and we were talking about how I wanted my school to be a part of Fly By Light, and thought about bringing the whole DMV area together to make youth change would be a great way to do that. We designed a flier, and started an Organizing Troupe to bring youth activists together from across the city. I’m proud to be here now.
To me, social justice means fighting for equality, equal rights, for the underdog, and voices that go unheard. In Fly By Light, as a community, we treat each other respectfully, equally as peers, and no one is better than someone or less than someone else. Outside of the way we treat each other, we make campaigns to fight for our peers and others who feel like they have no one else to fight for them.
Before Fly By Light I was afraid of my own voice. I stayed in the background. Since joining, I’ve felt like I was being heard and appreciated. When I’d bring up an idea to staff you’d just be like yeah let’s go with it, and that made me grow confident in my voice. Now I can speak up about stuff I want to speak about. I don’t just have to be a fly on the wall anymore. To anyone younger thinking of joining Fly By Light, I would tell them to just be themselves, we will accept you as you are because we love you.
After Fly By Light I see myself going to college, to university, and hopefully building a career in graphic design, that’s my goal. I hope I grow enough to impact people and to help people who can’t help themselves in any way they need help. From as simple as helping someone cross the street to something like helping people find affordable housing or helping them out financially, I want to be the backbone for people who don’t have their own yet.
If I was in charge of D.C., I would change the school lunches immediately. They have to go. On a more serious note, police presence has got to go too—especially in our schools.
“Morgan quickly stood out from the crowd as an independent thinking, compassionate community leader. She would make sure every single classmate’s voice was heard, and that everyone felt welcomed. Organizing Troupe was born because it was Morgan who decided there was a need for young people from her home city to work together across differences through arts advocacy campaigns.”– FBL Organizing Troupe Co- Facilitator, Tyler.