Social Justice in Our Work
Among the vast selection of picture books in the Reading Partners Library at PS 3 is Margaree King Miller’s Granddaddy’s Gift. Miller’s book tells the story of a young black girl, Little Joe, growing up in Mississippi during the 1960s. Little Joe watches her grandfather fight for black voters rights and learns the value of education and advocacy. Told from the perspective of Little Joe, the last page of the book reads:
“Grandaddy had taught me to stand up for things, even if I was scared, and always to be proud. His gift never left me. At the top of the courthouse steps, Granddaddy took my hand. We had come a long way. We still had a long way to go.”
As I’ve embarked on the beginning of my Fellowship, Granddaddy’s message resonates deeply with the ways I approach my work at my host organization. Reading Partners is a literacy nonprofit that provides individualized tutoring to early, struggling readers. Due to the fact I work directly with many young children of color, I want to find ways that I can stand up as an advocate for our students and apply social justice to my work.
All of the current Fellows have grappled with standing up for under served youth in some way or another as we push forward for equity in our roles. This year, we have focused on applying social justice to our work during our retreats, delving into the implications that our work has on current issues of racial justice. Through various workshops led by our fellows, we are analyzing the systemic forms of societal oppression that we must navigate in order to best serve the communities we work with. During our fall retreat in Philadelphia, we explored our work through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement in order to discuss ways our organizations can resist racial injustice. At our upcoming spring retreat, we will be continuing this conversation by examining our organizations’ missions and strategizing for cultural competency in our programs. One of our Fellows will also lead a session on the Nonprofit Industrial Complex to explore the role that nonprofits play in the greater economic and social scene.
The Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) brings to light the phenomenon in which nonprofits must often appeal to the agendas of funders in order to receive grants and sustain their organizations. As more nonprofits apply for the funding, social justice initiatives can take the back burner to business operations. Here arises a dilemma in which an organization may stray from its intended mission. In turn, a nonprofit may enact initiatives or say-all solutions for the communities it serves without taking into account the real issues that need to be addressed.
This session will be focused on the ways that we can work with our organizations to subvert and challenge the NPIC. With these different factors in play, from institutionalized racism and classism to economic structures of neoliberalism, the Fellows have a sense of urgency to committing to anti-racism and social justice.
Although all of us have different paths as to how we ended up at the FAO Schwarz Fellowship, I think there is one core value that connects all of us in some capacity. We all have a passion for enacting change through leadership and standing up for the youth we work with. The current fellows are sensitive to the current events that shape our society and have given a lot of thought to the ways that we can approach our work and to fight oppression.
I urge you to take into account the ways in which you can stand up for anti-racism and equality in your workplaces and in your personal lives. Even when we are scared or confused, it’s vital for all of us to remember Granddaddy’s message and to stand up for what we believe is right and just. Although I think that we still have a long way to go, we are on the right path to fostering bright futures for our country’s next generation of leaders.
Claudia von Nostitz was an FAO Schwarz Fellow at Reading Partners in New York. She is a literacy tutor in two elementary schools in Brooklyn and develops city-wide strategies to engage the communities around the schools Reading Partners serves. Claudia seeks to build sustainable partnerships that will help support and empower the students that she works with.