Sarah Fanslau is the VP of Youth Programs at Multiplying Good. Sarah has worked for 8 years in the service-learning and civic engagement space and was at Points of Light before moving to Multiplying Good. Sarah holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development Studies from the London School of Economics and has a background in social science research. Sarah grew-up in Downeast, Maine and lives in Westchester, NY with her two young children, husband and rescue cat, Vito.
Just because I am __________________________________________
Doesn’t mean ________________________________________
Doesn’t mean _________________________________________
Doesn’t mean __________________________________________
I am _______________________ and I am Students In Action (SIA)
How would you fill in the blanks above? Folks who came to our virtual SIA conferences this past fall wrote and shared their own poems. The purpose was to connect who we are as people to what we care about, and then use that to drive the change we want to see in the world. If I had to create a ‘We Are’ poem for 2020, it would go something like this...
We Are Poem for 2020
Just because this year has seen so much racial injustice, a pandemic, an increase in poverty, hunger and worklessness, countless climate disasters and a bitter election,
Doesn’t mean we don’t care for each other
Doesn’t mean we can’t find joy amongst the sorrow
Doesn’t mean we can’t do better
We are all connected, and we are SIA.
2020 has forced us, as a country, to get closer to some fundamental truths echoed in the poem above. We’ve witnessed a national conversation on racism and inequality born out of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more. We’ve been brought low by a global pandemic, resulting in more than a quarter million deaths in America, spikes in unemployment, poverty, and unprecedented food insecurity. We’ve been consumed by pictures of the burning west coast, the sun blocked out by mud red smoke. And we’ve lived through an unchartered presidential election.
What do we do in the face of these experiences? How do we change? What do we do differently? How do we internalize the lessons this year has taught us so that we can do better? Many of these things aren’t new and I would argue none were unforeseen. So instead of thinking of this year as an apparition, let’s frame it as the year we were forced to see, to really see, what’s been going on, and confront what happens when too many of us sit back and assume someone else is going to fix the problems.
This year has strengthened my belief in the importance of community, reaffirmed my commitment to making sure every young person believes they have a seat at the table when it comes to changing their community and that adults get the tools and resources they need to support youth in that work. At Multiplying Good, we’re not waiting to make the changes to support a better tomorrow, we’re already doing it. Here is a look back at what’s happened here this year, and what we’re committed to going forward.
1. Responding to a national conversation on racism: This summer and fall witnessed a renewed conversation on racism and systemic inequality in this country. In response, Multiplying Good compiled and sent newsletters to our SIA advisors and youth featuring resources for learning, and action and a blog written by SIA Alum and Twin Cities native, Amera Hassan. Moving beyond resources, we quickly designed and deployed a set of Brave Space conversations for our adult advisors, giving folks the chance to come together and learn about being an ally, understanding anti-racism and supporting youth of color. This work is never done and continues through our SIA conferences and Litmos where we are unpacking having difficult conversations, exploring bias and stereotype and understanding racism.
2. Making it virtual: When Covid-19 hit, Multiplying Good started planning for a few different scenarios, including bringing ALL of SIA online for the fall of 2019. This planning was put to good use when all online became a reality. This fall, we held 11 virtual SIA conferences for our youth across the country and pivoted to provide remote support to the teams willing and able to keep going!
When folks first heard we’d be doing 4-hour trainings, they said—"too long”, “no way”, "this is going to be so hard!" But they were anything but, from break-out rooms to dance parties to powerful I-Am poems, these virtual spaces came to life. But don’t take my word for it, check out the quotes from participants below!
3. Providing more tools for adults: If there’s a lesson to be learned from this year, it’s that adults should move out of the way and let youth take the lead. And that’s what we do through SIA, but youth also need adult support and mentorship to take their work to the next level, address challenges and find resources. This year, we decided that in addition to training our youth, we wanted to provide even more training for our adults on the skills and competencies they need to best support their teams! This included training around having difficult conversations, stepping-up and stepping back and leveling-up service projects.
4. Leaning into the imperative: It would be easy this year to give in or give up, but that’s not what any of our SIA teams did. In fact, folks leaned in to do more, they pivoted to plan projects to address Covid-19. Teams like Sadlowski in Chicago, Saugus in Boston and so many others, decided that the state of the world was the reason to get involved, not a reason to disengage. In LA, SIA team president Marlee shared, “if people are having a hard time figuring out how to help right now, they must be being picky or trying to do too much, because there’s so much that needs to be done.”
5. Leading with passion and purpose: When times get tough, passion and individual purpose will get you going. This was the theme of our SIA Fall Conference this year, where we asked SIA participants to connect who they are to what they care about. The responses were clear, from racial injustice and systemic inequality, to the impacts of Covid-19, mental health and climate change youth are on fire about the big issues facing them and this world. We can’t wait to see what they do.
As we look to 2021, let us remember the words of Maya Angelou who said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Service to others can be the answer to so many of our challenges, and the rebuilding of a civic and community life that is by and for ALL. Thank you for being on this journey with us to turn this dream into a reality! We see you. We appreciate you. Let’s change the world. If you aren’t already a part of SIA, click here to learn more and get involved.