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Becoming Activist

Critical Literacy and Youth Organizing


Elizabeth Bishop

Becoming Activist is a revolutionary study of youth human rights activism and literacy learning. The book follows five urban youth organizers from the Drop Knowledge Project in New York City. Intentionally polyvocal, the voices of the five youth are featured prominently to highlight the shifting articulation of their activist identities in relation to social and economic justice. Becoming Activist explores critical literacy pedagogy beyond the confines of formal education. While it has been historically theorized within English classrooms, much existing research points to the limitations of conducting critical literacy in schools. In search of a space where critical literacy can be more fully realized, this book positions urban youth organizing as an alternative context for powerful community-based learning. A valuable read for educators, researchers, and young organizers, Becoming Activist offers insight into conducting literacy work to promote positive youth and community development. Ultimately, the idea of «becoming» is key to understanding and supporting youth activists as they grow to exercise their political power for positive social change.
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Chapter 1. Drop Knowledge Project in New York City

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Vaga De Franx: On any given event, when people ask me, “What do you really do?” I say, “Well, we organized for about four months. We connected, we flyered our campuses, we talked to people, we tirelessly outreached to professors, we annoyed administration, and annoyed security for months. And we did it with the idea in our minds that there were other students in other campuses who were doing the same and we had an opportunity to secure that community on our campuses because there was somebody on another campus doing the same.”

This text tours a 2012 literacy study of urban youth activism in New York City. As the primary investigator and author, I am joined in my narration by the five youth participants: Vaga De Franx, Gentle Meadows, Green Strawberries, Awesome Woman, and People’s Republic of Mars (all names are self-selected pseudonyms). These five young activists are alumni of the Human Rights Activist Project (HRAP), a social action-oriented youth organizing program run by Global Kids (GK). They are all in their early twenties and come from historically underresourced NYC neighborhoods and public schools. Their language is central to understanding their experiences in this cultural studies research project, and you will read excerpts of their words at length throughout.

When I first met with each of these youth activists to explain the project and gauge their interest, one recurring idea that echoed across our ← 1 | 2 → conversations was the notion of collectivity. Awesome Woman spoke...

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