This article was cross-posted from the Huffington Post.
I work with many DREAM students. It has been my great pleasure to do so. I heard a teacher once say that she did not have to hear students' stories to know who was undocumented in the room, she would simply look at those exceeding academically, those willing to do extra work, those setting the bar high for the rest, and automatically assume these achievers are likely those without documents. This is my experience as well.
I run a weekly youth outreach at our church, Neighborhood Ministries, in Phoenix, Arizona. We are interested in the spiritual development and growth of our young people but as a holistic mission we also care about the rest of their lives as well. So we offer bible studies, art classes, a bike shop, college prep resources, creative writing workshops, and a leadership development track. Believing that youth are partners in our community development work rather than problems to be solved, we have found profound leadership capacity in our young people. Our undocumented youth, along the way, have led us all.
In 2007, as we began to think about organizing young people, we did not want to artificially surface issues we felt were important but instead allow students to do research in their own community and use their findings to create policy recommendations. Students went out into their community armed with digital cameras and tape recorders and interviewed dozens of neighbors taking photographs of the community few others had the eyes to see. All of this was combined into what we called the Media Project which students used to begin policy dialogues with local elected leaders, including our Congressman, Ed Pastor. Students decided the DREAM Act addressed much of what was challenging in our local community at a root level.
This led us to look for partners. During the SB1070 debacle, we initiated with other people of faith a prayer vigil encouraging the governor to make the moral choice and veto this bad bill. Our vigil lasted over 100 straight days, was led by our student leaders and others like them and birthed a new organization, Promise Arizona. This new group decided that the direct action of the vigil must move from protest to politics and so we began an intense civic engagement campaign where volunteer leaders as young as 14 registered over 13,000 new voters. This was an historic achievement in Arizona where paid canvassers are much more common but don't come from or engage the community long-term the way volunteers who come from these precincts can. Our young leaders were front and center in this movement. I am glad to say that we are beginning again another summer of hope building community electoral power around the municipal elections this year. We will do the same in 2012. It's hot walking neighborhoods in Arizona in June, but our young leaders are excited and energized to be the agents of change desperately needed in our community.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.
I believe that God is on the side of those who don't get a fair shake, those who get swindled, those reporting to hypocrites. His love, His grace pools up in these low places and we get to experience that love and grace when we join him in these places in our world. It has been my great pleasure to work alongside these amazing young people who are changing the world and me in it. They are paying 230 times more now to go to the local community college. Jobs and financial security are pipe dreams. Racial profiling and fear of the police haunts honor students all the time. Family members are being separated for the foreseeable future. It is looking bleak as good legislation has failed yet again. But our hope is not based in logical analyses or in political timelines; ours is a hope rooted in a loving God who promises to rescue His people and to give them a beautiful future. He asks us to join him in his work; you'll know where to find us, we'll be out on the street registering new voters.
Ian Danley is a youth leader for Neighborhood Ministries.