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Youth Road to Detroit: For Youth by Youth

Corina McCarthy-Fadel
Date Published: 
April 1, 2010

On September 25, 1957 nine Black students started classes at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, beginning the school’s process of integration. On June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa, thousands of young people gathered in their schools for a student-run demonstration against apartheid. In 1989 hundreds of street youth in Brazil took over the Brazilian National Congress to fight for the passing of laws that favored young people. Throughout history, youth have been at the forefront of social movements. When the 2010 United States Social Forum arrives in Detroit, youth will again rise to the occasion. Youth are already organizing across the country for the USSF, holding community forums and meetings and spreading the word to get more people involved.

It is estimated that nearly half of the participants at the first USSF in Atlanta in 2007 were young people. Youth from every region of the United States found their way to Atlanta. Being at the first USSF, most didn’t know what to expect. Hector Pizarro of Boston, now 21 years old, remembers traveling to Atlanta: “When I came in 2007 to the USSF I was going with the mindset of already knowing everything but, boy, was I wrong! There were people from all over who needed each other. It made me more aware of my community and surroundings. It planted my energy towards creating change.”

The USSF was born from the World Social Forum process and the belief that “Another World Is Possible.” For the USSF the line “Another US Is Necessary” was added, attracting thousands of people from grassroots movements for change all across the US. For youth participating in the USSF it was a moment to realize the power of being part of a global movement. “The USSF is only one piece of an international process of shifting power. Young people are important to this movement, because they will ensure the longevity of this movement…and will make the shift of power happen,” says Derek Rankins, 18 years old, of New Orleans, describing the power of young people within the USSF process. Young people were able to use the first USSF to meet, share, and build from each other’s experiences. Youth were able to take the power of these experiences from the first USSF in Atlanta back to the communities where they came from, with faith that indeed another world is possible, and that they are not alone in the fight for a shift of power in the United States.

Almost three years since the first USSF, young people are facing hard times. Community violence leaves streets bloodied and unsafe at home, while military recruitment continues to take youth away to war, leaving bloodied streets abroad. With youth unemployment at twice the national level and dropout rates rising from the failure of our public schools, the number of youth in prison continues to grow. This is the reality young people across the United States wake up to each morning: youth know that another United States is necessary.

The 2010 USSF will take place in Detroit, which has particular importance to young people. The Detroit Public Schools estimated dropout rate is around 75 percent, and Detroit is consistently ranked at the top of the charts for highest murder rates, which take the lives of more and more young people. Along with unemployment rates around 30 percent or higher, young people in “the D” are coming up with the odds against them. Detroit and the youth of this resilient city have been forced to find alternatives to the reality around them. Youth programs, like Detroit Summer, work with young people using media and art to make change.  Hope Gardens, a project of the organizations Friends of Detroit and Tri-City, builds urban gardens as self-sustaining food sources for the community.  These are just two examples of how the Detroit locals have found ways to rebuild their communities with their own hands. This June in downtown Detroit, thousands of people will gather, share, build and learn from Detroit, adding yet another line to the USSF slogan, “Another Detroit Is Happening!”

With less than six months until June 22 and the start of the second USSF, youth are starting to organize their local areas and are getting more involved at a national level with the USSF planning process. Most young people are being connected with the planning of the USSF through a national youth-led body called the Youth Working Group (YWG), which is part of the larger National Planning Committee of the USSF. The purpose of the YWG is to ensure that youth are part of every aspect of the USSF and to guarantee that the USSF is an intergenerational process that is supportive of youth leadership. Young people from across the country are excited about the upcoming USSF in Detroit.
Tracy Chacon of Albuquerque, 19 years old, describes her excitement about the USSF: “It’s going to be a space where young people from all over the nation can come together to create change within the social justice movement.” In 2007, Christi Ketchum, the Atlanta local leader for youth organizing and co-chair of the Youth Working Group for the first USSF, described the important role of youth leadership at the first USSF: “The presence of youth leadership at the US Social Forum was eye-opening, encouraging and crucial to today’s movement.”  Youth are on their way to Detroit to join in with the chorus of voices saying: “Another World Is Possible, Another US Is Necessary, Another Detroit Is Happening.”

If you want to get involved in the “Youth Road to Detroit” email youthussf (at) and get connected to the Youth Working Group. We host bi-weekly conference calls, and keep open communication with young people, youth workers, and allies who are building towards the 2010 USSF.

Corina McCarthy-Fadel is the Co-Chair of the Youth Working Group for the USSF. She is 20 years old and lives in Atlanta where she works with youth at Project South. She is originally from Boston and has been doing youth organizing since high school.