What evolved as a dream for a group of students in 1995 has today catapulted into a movement for thousands of others. In the fashion of great activists, children of the Freedom Movement and students from Sam Brinkley Middle School in Jackson, Mississippi organized themselves to help create a world of which they would want to be a part.
These budding activists are helping to create a society in which students of working class families receive an exemplary education rather than merely a “fair” one. Together, Taba and Omo Moses — Civil Rights leaders and current Harvard Professor Bob Moses’ children — and Khari Milner partnered with Brinkley Middle School to create The Young People’s Project.
The Young People’s Project was crafted from the belief that math literacy could impact social change. In the United States, haves and have-nots are often distinguished by their quality of education. YPP was founded with the conviction that the only way to minimize this country’s socio-economic disparity is to challenge the achievement gap — specifically in mathematics.
Solving the education conundrum is on the YPP national agenda. But education problems are also local, and can be confronted when students have a shared interest in education reform. Students from the University’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses co-exist within YPP’s organizational framework, which also includes Eastern Michigan University movers and shakers like Morghan Williams. The coalition also includes students like Khalid Sarsour — former Lincoln High School Math literacy worker and current student at the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus — and the University at Ann Arbor student leaders like Natalie Erb and Jacob Tanner.
Though the Ann Arbor site of YPP is currently undergoing dramatic financial budget cuts, this setback hasn’t decreased members’ optimism. Instead, it has created greater possibility for growth.
The cuts that YPP has experienced have affected such schools as Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti and Cesar Chavez Academy High School in Detroit, where YPP sites no longer exist. But the spirit of YPP is very much alive in the Ypsilanti community and the lives of Lincoln High School students. According to the Ann Arbor interim program director, Alexandra Tracy, high school students like Nana Nyarko, Nikita Miner, Aysha Williams and Amber Cobbs are emerging activists. They are working independently and with YPP’s College Math Literacy Workers to increase funding for sites that have lost sponsorship. Under the guidance of Sarsour, these students even formed their own YPP club, meeting without former YPP staff.
By being plugged into the Detroit and Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti communities, YPP is not only changing the expectations of math achievement for high school and middle school students, but also cultivating power within the neighborhoods and student communities around the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College. The idea is to increase the involvement of college students in the Flint and Detroit areas, like those attending Wayne State University and the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.
I’m confident that YPP will eventually receive the financial backing it needs to continue to foster visible growth in secondary education because of its ability to build a coalition by tapping into the community power at the local level.
The only thing interfering with the students disadvantaged by this country’s wide-spread achievement gap is their quality of learning. YPP is challenging this problem by making use of a child’s potential at the grassroots level.
The Young People’s Project is important to the social progress of this country. This organization has created an alternative approach for the academic inequalities of this country. Its method is not slanted by the views of the left or right wing. However, they are motivated by the effects of social exclusion, which lend to an unequal public school education.
Brittany Smith is an LSA junior.