Young Changemakers in Social Movements: The 2019 Summer Internship in Community Organizing
by Sonia Steinmann
Ms. Steinmann served as the New York Foundation’s Intern in Philanthropy in 2019. She is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied Chinese literature in a comparative context. She is passionate about the housing and LGBTQ movements, especially the transgender movement.
On July 23rd, 2019, over 20 interns from community organizations and foundations across New York City came to the New York Foundation offices to share their experiences in social justice. As the Philanthropy Intern at the New York Foundation and co-facilitator of the day, I led an activity called Head Heart Hands—sitting in pairs, the interns got to reflect on their beliefs and values and learn about those of others. With so many different backgrounds and interests, it was no surprise that their perspectives diverged; but I was moved by the sincerity, empathy, and creativity that these young changemakers brought to our discussion.
As the New York Foundation’s Intern in Philanthropy for 2019, I had the pleasure of coordinating the Summer Internship in Community Organizing (SICO). SICO is a program of the New York Foundation that offers high school- and college-aged youth paid community organizing experience with the Foundation’s current grantee-partners, this year 15 social justice organizations across New York City. The workshop was the interns’ chance to reflect on their experiences together.
Interns worked on a variety of issues, including immigration, criminal justice reform, climate justice, housing, and LGBTQ issues. This year’s SICO organizations were Alliance of Families for Justice, Atlas:DIY, Cabrini Immigrant Services, Churches United for Fair Housing, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Families for Freedom, FIERCE, Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project, Flatbush Tenant Coalition, How Our Lives Link Altogether!, IntegrateNYC, NY Communities Organizing Fund, NYS Youth Leadership Council, Young Advocates for Fair Education, and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.
The SICO interns’ enthusiastic involvement exemplified the leadership of young people in our political climate. Omar A. Hernandez Rodriguez worked at Families for Freedom (FFF), supporting immigrants with criminal convictions and their loved ones, who are most impacted by the immigration enforcement system. Omar was closely involved in supporting and advocating on behalf of FFF’s members and constituency. This involved writing letters of advocacy to the embassies of immigrants’ home countries, accompanying them to court, and keeping in touch with those in detention.
Omar, a recent college graduate, told me that the experience was helping him politicize his identity as the son of Honduran immigrants. “The knowledge is not just staying in this space,” he said, gesturing outward, “but expanding to my network of friends and family.” As he witnessed the everyday realities of detention and deportation, he was becoming energized to educate those in his circle. In this way, Omar’s impact was expanding beyond the group, building his voice in the immigrant-rights movement at large.
SICO interns were able to develop their leadership because their host organizations believed in the vital contributions of youth to social movements. At a time of intensifying and interlocking oppression, young people like the SICO interns exhibit resilience, creativity, and optimism—with opportunities to grow their confidence and initiative.
This was the case for Megan Khan and Aribel Sosa, interns at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, who had been an active part of reclaiming and revitalizing Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx. I visited on Community Friday, and they were running healthy food demonstrations, canoe rides, and the upkeep of a garden, filled with fruits and vegetables. As she gave me a tour, Megan said that her involvement had begun as a summer job but extended into a commitment of several years. She reflected on how the tangible contribution she was making in her community was expanding into a broader political consciousness of the needs of her community. Now, she had the sense of leadership and responsibility to be actively involved in social change.
The SICO orientation was an opportunity for the interns to build on these experiences and others. I planned and facilitated the orientation with Ejeris Dixon, a consultant from Vision Change Win. Ejeris, who has experience in the racial justice, LGBTQ, anti-violence, and economic justice movements, gave a formal introduction to community organizing tools such as power mapping. Ejeris closed the orientation with an exercise in which each participant sang or added a sound, such as a clap, over a beat. The swelling sound as we joined in one-by-one was a moving reminder of the trust and joy we had built over the course of the day.
I was humbled and grateful to work with the SICO interns as part of my own internship. In building the confidence and professional experience of youth, many of whom are a part of marginalized communities, SICO contributes to a vital future for social movements in New York City.