An obligation by Erica DeValve

An obligation by Erica DeValve Initially, upon moving to Cleveland this past July, I was introduced to a lot of the negative aspects of the city.  My husband’s decision to […]

January 17, 2018 // EYEJ // No Comments //

An obligation by Erica DeValve

Initially, upon moving to Cleveland this past July, I was introduced to a lot of the negative aspects of the city.  My husband’s decision to kneel during the national anthem along with some of his teammates on the Browns, led to an influx of harassment and threats from Clevelanders desperately trying to maintain the status quo.  My research into the city taught me that, as of 2015, the Huffington Post had listed Cleveland as the #1 most segregated city in America, that Cleveland is among the top five cities in America with the highest poverty and child poverty rates, that, also as of 2015, Cleveland had the second highest infant mortality rates among American cities, with black infants dying twice as much as white ones. The evidence of systemic racial and economic disorder was laid before me clearly through personal attacks in my inbox, as well as statistics, rankings, and data.  But my research into my new home also brought to my attention a great deal of positive: I found organization after organization, non-profit after non-profit fully dedicated to alleviating the sting and combating the root of some of the aforementioned statistics. In my early weeks of living in Cleveland, I educated myself not only on the problems that the city faces, but also on the groups of people who have organized and mobilized to address these problems, enact change, and encourage progress. One of the first organizations that I came upon was EYEJ. As I learned more about Cleveland, I could feel my heart pulling more and more towards the children who live here, the children of color and those children living in poverty. I was so drawn to EYEJ because their mission of empowering students and coming alongside them to engage topics of social justice resonated with me so clearly.

Pursuing change in areas of social injustice is of the utmost importance, especially in our current sociopolitical climate. In my opinion, perhaps one of the most important places to start is with engaging the young people whose lived experiences paint the clearest picture of the injustice we must address. Not only should we be listening to them and seriously engaging them, but we should be amplifying their voices and encouraging their power and excellence.  Upholding the value of young people’s voices, and empowering young people to use those voices, as they become thinkers, and advocates, and activists is perhaps one of the most powerful processes within a social movement.

There are so many social structures and influences that seek to undermine and devalue young people of color. There are strong, systemic socioeconomic factors that are successful in immobilizing entire communities. I take it to be a responsibility, an absolute obligation, to do what I can to dismantle the power that these influences and factors hold. And I encourage everyone I meet and talk to, to do the same. This, however, requires direct involvement. Direct involvement with young people, unwavering support and encouragement of their capacity, is what will silence the influences that undermine their worth. Throughout history, young people have proved themselves to be essential to progress and integral agents in movements forward. The youth in Cleveland have the same opportunity to be advocates and agents in their communities, and they deserve our support. To say that I am excited to have the privilege of being involved in what EYEJ is doing in Cleveland would be an understatement. The mission of this organization is not only important, but it is absolutely necessary.

Find out more about EYEJ here.

Erica DeValve

EYEJ Official Ambassador