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February 9, 2011

Boston Youth Group Pushes Commons-based Goals

The Hyde Square Task Force, a youth organization working in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, made an assessment of improvements that local people want to see in their community. The Task Force then raised money and created new programs staffed by youth to fulfill the commons-based goals articulated by the community:

  • Murals and other forms of public art

  • Health-related education and training for youth

  • Strong literacy among young people

  • Community organizing efforts to address local problems

  • Dance performances and other cultural events

The Hyde Square Task Force now employs between 75 and 125 high school students, part-time, to foster and create these common assets through “programs such as the following”:http://www.hydesquare.org/programs/youth.html

Youth Literacy Tutors: Youth in the Hyde/Jackson Square neighborhood take part in a program to boost their own reading skills and then are trained to help younger children read.

Youth Community Organizers: Fifteen young people are trained as organizers each year to take action on issues of importance to the community. They receive a rigorous education in public speaking, advocacy skills, the history of social movements, and analysis of power and social class dynamics.

Health Career Ambassadors Program: A program created to help youth interested in health care careers has expanded to include an internship program and advocacy for public health initiatives.

Community Development Artists: Neighborhood youth work with professional artists to create public art that expresses “themselves, their community and their vision for the future” in local public spaces.

Ritmo en Acción: An award-wining Afro-Latino dance troupe.

Beyond the value of what is produced, says Chrismaldi Vásquez, the Task Force’s Manager of Organizing and Policy Initiatives, the community also “gains from the work we’re doing because the young people are developing, they’re becoming better students, they’re becoming more informed and knowledgeable members of society.”

Vásquez’s introduction to community organizing began at age 14 when she helped block a K-mart slated to take over a vacant lot in the community, and later secured funding to put a Youth and Community Center there instead.

In 2009, through an entirely youth-led effort, the Task Force campaigned to reinstate civics as a required course in Boston’s public high schools. Organizing a citywide campaign, they lined up support from the City Council, then turned out more than 300 students for a public hearing on the proposal. “The high school students realized they were learning a lot of things through their work with the Task Force – the importance of voting, how government works – that they weren’t learning in school, but should be,” Vásquez says.

—Phillip Cryan & Jay Walljasper

Adapted from the book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons (The New Press), edited by Jay Walljasper and On the Commons.