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Social Justice is Youth Work


Social justice is youth work. The work can be used to spark inspiration for social change. During Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage month, highlight the inspirational impact of AANHPI social justice activists. Inspire young people to explore these cultures.

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    Why social justice matters

    Youth work is inherently social justice work. It’s rooted in the belief that programming should enhance the social and personal development of a young person. More likely than not, the nature of the work will have organizations working with marginalized communities. Youth workers are in a unique position wherein they teach and model consciousness-raising and social action techniques to young people.

    We have become a connected global society, in turn that means that the chaos of one is being shared with the next. Youth reflect the state of this world. As a result, they are exposed to the tumultuous events. As of late, many share a sense of hopelessness and exhaustion. But this is not the first time that people have felt that way.

    Looking back on AANHPI history, the odds have been against so many. Despite this we are living in the future that they had in mind.

    Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander social justice activists

    To inspire the current generation, look at the AANHPI social justice activists that fought strongly against all odds to speak their words of equality.

    • Patsy Mink faced discrimination as an Asian-American lawyer. With a growing interest in politics, she became a U.S. Congresswoman.

    “If to believe in freedom and equality is to be a radical, then I am a radical. So long as there remain groups of our fellow Americans who are denied equal opportunity and equal protection under the law ...”

    • Philip Vera Cruz traveled from the Philippines to the U.S. for better work opportunities. Eventually, he worked as a farm laborer. This inspired his involvement in organizing labor movements as well as advocating for Filipino rights.

    “If somebody is moved by this story to do something to help others, to make a sacrifice, to use [their] intellect for the good of the people, not only people in this country will be affected, but also those in the Philippines. If more young people could just get involved in the important issues of social justice”

    • Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett was a major figure in founding the suffragette movement in Hawaii.

    “Sister Hawaiians, our foreign sisters are with us …We are working all together, and we want the legislature to know this. And we must also remember our Oriental sisters, who are not here today but who will also unite this great cause.”’

    So many Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders have made a mark in America’s development. Their contributions ensure that AANHPI voices are being represented.

    Lessons in persistence

    We can learn from their stories that the fight towards equity is far from complete. In their own lifetimes, it was rare to see the fruits of their labor. But draw on their experiences to learn that fighting injustice starts with us. And that drive arises from the injustices that surround us.

    Within each of their life experiences any social justice activist has relied on their community, family, and friends to help inspire and fight. Accordingly, inform and educate the young people in your communities so they can also gain hope for a better future for themselves and future generations.

    Check out our Intercultural Engagement trainings to learn how to adapt your programming to be more culturally inclusive.

    About the author

    Gaonu Yang is the grantee member advocate of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Gaonu a question or share your feedback about this blog, email

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