Spotlight on Rethink: Lifting Up the Voices Too Often Left Out

In honor of #GivingTuesday on November 29th, the Schott Foundation has reached out to some of our grantee partners to get the low-down on what they do, who they’re doing it for, and the challenges that they handle like rockstars every day.

The Schott Foundation began partnering with Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools this year to support their work around organizing and providing leadership opportunities for youth of color in New Orleans.

Today, we’re talking to kg marshall, executive director.

WHO: Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools
WHERE: New Orleans, LA
WHAT: Education, Youth Organizing
THEIR FICTIONAL CHARACTER OF CHOICE: The Mongoose from West Indian folklore – witty, resourceful, and always finding ways to outsmart the other animals that are meant to depict colonizers.

SF: Tell us about Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools – how did it get started, and why?
KG: Rethink is one of three organizations in New Orleans that train youth organizers and the only one that works with youth as young as 10 years old. We started ten years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, to lift up the youth voices that were conspicuously absent in the rebuilding of the city. For many years, we focused on changing school policies, especially related to food justice and discipline practices.

More recently, we have expanded our focus to look at the many interlocking systems that oppress young people of color in New Orleans.

What are the main objectives of the organization?
Rethink’s work is guided by a 5ive Point platform that was developed by our members over the last few years. The platform is a youth perspective on the big changes we need to see related to Education, Mass Incarceration, Food Oppression, Media and Health Care.

For example, one of the demands in the Education platform point is “we want an education for all youth that includes critical analysis of systems that govern society and that teaches our true history and the role that it plays in our current society.”

“We see grassroots fundraising as an important organizing skill and try to bring everyone - youth, staff, board members and other supporters - into the process.”

What are the core services/activities of the organization?
We start political education and organizing training with youth as young as 10 years old and continue to build with them as they age up through our leadership pipeline. Our core programs are Roots Crew (ages 10-14) and Branch Division (ages 15-22). We intentionally use the metaphor of a tree because we are building a strong, grounded base that is capable of addressing multiple issues simultaneously and making connections across issues.

Roots Crew members all get a thorough introduction to understanding oppression and standing in their own power. They also learn the praxis of Youth Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR). Branch Division is split up into multiple collectives that each focus on a different issue area guided by our 5ive Point Platform.

What are the challenges facing the organization?
We are acutely aware that radical work cannot rely entirely on grants to move forward. As a growing organization that prioritizes paying young people to organize and lead each other, we are constantly hustling to raise an annual budget with support from our community, not just big foundations. We see grassroots fundraising as an important organizing skill and try to bring everyone - youth, staff, board members and other supporters - into the process. It’s a challenge to build our fundraising muscles when there is so much urgency in the work.

How would you describe the people you serve/advocate for? What is important to them?
Rethinkers often describe themselves as a family. We just celebrated our 10 year anniversary so we have many members who literally grew up together over a decade of building collectively. Many of these folks are now on our staff or in leadership positions within our collectives. They welcome in new members with open arms and continue to build a close knit culture that is as much about building relationships of mutual love and support as winning campaign victories.

Our members are youth of color who are growing up in a New Orleans that is as steeped in white supremacy as ever, and increasingly locks them up or pushes them out. They are focused on struggles for survival and liberation, as well as the daily concerns of being teenagers.

Okay, kg, one last question – what do you love most about this work?
Seeing young people explore their own agency and ways to shift power!

#GivingTuesday is a chance for all to support incredible work happening around the country. Don’t forget to keep Rethink in mind on November 29th!


Also check out Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools’ website and follow them on Facebook to keep up-to-date on their activities.