Hello to everyone in ICC land. My name is Stan Brajer and I recently joined Stacey Benben as co-leader of the VISTAs under the AS220 umbrella. I’ve started visiting our 12 different sites and have been inspired by many of the projects that our VISTAs are working on. Many of the principles of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are present in the work that these VISTAs are doing, and I can’t say enough about how important it is to do this type of work.
At Rhode Island for Community Justice, we have two VISTAs working toward Dr. King’s vision of a more equal society. Their projects are deeply rooted in social justice and a better understanding among different groups and individuals. For example, they work to help different social service agencies have a better cultural understanding of youth, help groups come together to fight for juvenile offenders and their families to have increased access to legal language, and coordinate activities for the Youth Action Council; where kids discuss different topics such as leadership through social justice and immigration stereotypes.
At Woonsocket High School, A VISTA works to help kids with the Expanded Learning Opportunities program. This program helps kids start projects that they can use for high school credit. Kids come with different ideas of what they may want to be when they grow up and the VISTA works to find them a mentor to help them gain a better understanding of a particular profession. Just as MLK, Jr. had a vision for a better future, so do some of the kids at WHS. The program is expanding rapidly, and expects to have about 150 students by the end of the school year.
Many of our projects focus on youth arts programming as well. Increasing access to the arts can, in my opinion be a great force for increasing social and economic justice in society. Dr. King preached about empowerment and I have seen how a few of our sites so far have been able to empower people. By giving youth the tools they need to succeed, whether it be in the arts or any field that they might be interested in, they can work to eliminate social, cultural and economic barriers.
As Dr. King said, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals”. I’m very proud to be apart of something that heeds this call to service of Dr. King. The work that we do should make us realize how dedicated we are to improving the lives of individuals and communities! Keep fighting the good fight and happy holidays to everyone!