‘They need to listen to the youth’: Young people help NOC on front lines in fight for racial and economic justice

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Sebastian Alfonzo, St. Paul Central High School
Wintana Melekin, NOC’s civic and political engagement director
Anthony Newby, NOC's executive director

WHEN IT WAS CeCe Monn-Price’s turn to speak to the Minneapolis City Council, she was terrified.

Standing at a podium in the middle of the council chambers
 on Dec. 9, a camera pointed her direction, the 16-year-old North Minneapolis resident nervously began to address City Council members about the equity issues she’s witnessed in her community.

As she continued speaking, touching on her worry for the lives of her black male friends and the unrest outside the Fourth Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department, she felt both anger and release, she said.

“I think they need somebody who’s witnessed every single thing first-hand from the minute she was younger to now,” Monn-Price said. “I have witnessed so much. If they are not going to listen to the older people, then they need to listen to the youth.”

Monn-Price is part of a vast group of young people involved with a Minneapolis grassroots organization that fights for racial and economic justice in the Twin Cities.

The organization, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), supports that cause in under-resourced communities of color across the Twin Cities. The member-led organization creates political campaigns that involve more than 1,000 youth, such as Monn-Price, every year, estimated Wintana Melekin, NOC’s civic and political engagement director.

“Young people are a part of NOC in every single way,” Melekin said.

“If you look in the history of social justice movements, (they) are led
 by the youth,” Melekin added. “We strongly support that, we strongly believe in that. I don’t think you can come to the NOC office and not see the role of youth. Almost all of our staff is under the age of 40.”

Founded in 2010, NOC has focused campaigns on improving public transit, workers’ rights, police accountability and expanded voting rights, according to its website. For example, the organization recently has pushed a bill that allows felons to vote as soon as they get out of jail, petitioned for a special prosecutor instead of a grand jury in the Jamar Clark case and called for better working conditions for Target Field temp employees.

Among many things, young people travel door-to-door to talk to community members about specific issues and gather support; call people in their communities and ask them to participate in campaigns; and organize events.

“The young people have always had the most energy, the most creative ideas, the most creative anything when it comes to organizing,” said Anthony Newby, NOC’s executive director. “That’s historically true.”

CeCe Monn-Price, center, a junior at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, speaks to the Minneapolis City Council about issues in her neighborhood on Dec. 9 in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Mike Griffin, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change)

A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Newby believes NOC is part
 of a long-standing tradition of young people being at the helm of movements.

“We’re following that long line of giving space and leadership opportunities to young people to help craft the vision and future not only as the organization, but as the country itself,” he said.

Roy Magnuson, a veteran activist and a social studies teacher at St. Paul Como Park, believes in the importance of young people’s involvement in civics.

“It’s real important, because they get a chance to see that they’re not alone in caring,” Magnuson said. “They get a chance to see that they can make a difference.”

He added: “They get a chance to see that carrying a belief from a concept, to action, to reality, works.”

Magnuson provided an 
example with the “Vote No” campaign in 2012, when an overwhelming amount of 
young people voted against
 the gay marriage amendment, a large win for same-sex marriage. Young people
did not only vote in opposition, but also they spread
 the word to their parents
 and grandparents in an
 organized effort to change
 people’s viewpoints on an 
issue through conversation, 
he said.


Melekin shares similar
 beliefs about youth involvement in politics and creating change.

“If they start and get involved
 at a very young age, by the time they’re a voter they can make really well-rounded decisions and they can have (a) huge effect on the candidate around them,” she said.

‘STUFF ... A LOT OF TEENAGERS MY AGE NEED TO HEAR ABOUT’

Monn-Price, a junior at Patrick Henry High School, joined NOC in the fall through her mother’s involvement with the organization. Monn-Price credits her mother for being a large influence on her activism, and the two have bonded through this experience, she said.

“My mother’s been pushing me and helping me and working with me every step of the way,” Monn-Price said. “I work with her so it makes it so much easier for us to communicate.”

Monn-Price works 
on the canvassing team, which goes door-to-door conducting surveys and talking with people about current issues and how to work on them. She also works on phone banking, where NOC members invite people to the organization’s events and inform them on NOC’s work, as well as on what the organization would like to work on in the future.

Monn-Price encourages young people to join NOC.

“I have gotten a lot of information out of NOC,” Monn-Price said. “Stuff that I didn’t even know was going on in my neighborhood and in my community that I think a lot of teenagers my age need to hear about.” 

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