This blog post is the sixth in an ongoing series, 10 Years Deep, that celebrates the evolution and growth of Deep Center’s programs in our first decade. 

(Read all posts in the 10 Years Deep series here.)

(Read part 1, “Our Stories Are the Evidence,” here)

We Are the Work

Throughout the past year, members of the Action Research Team (ART), as well as young people from around the city, gathered to examine the world that they live in, and more importantly, identify actions they can take to transform it. This included examining the policies, rules, regulations, and practices that often harm more than help, including the way the policies disproportionately push black and brown youth out of school and into the juvenile justice system. 

Photo by Geoff Johnson

Lots of Conversations about Youth—but Where Are the Youth? 

So often, conversations about young people leave out the very young people they are purportedly intended to center. Well-meaning adults gather in rooms to talk about youth, habitually framing them as broken, lazy, financially or morally impoverished, or one of the many other deficiencies described in the old narratives that have long undervalued our communities.

For Deep, addressing this problem meant one thing had to happen: from day one, youth would lead the conversation on what transformation could be. So Deep hosted a yearlong Youth Summit, a three-part research series held over several months that charged ART members with training and supporting nearly 60 youth from across Chatham County to suss out policies, practices, and systems of power that are helping and harming them. Academic researchers from the University of Georgia and Missouri State University joined Deep to helped train and support ART and aggregate data. The process empowered youth to work side-by-side and collaborate, as a multiplicity of experiences, identities, and privileges came together to interrogate where and how we lie in relation to each other. Deep built the container, then stepped back to let youth most affected by the issues lead the way. 

Photo by Geoff Johnson

Research, Feedback, Research, Feedback

Throughout 2019, ART used youth-led participatory action research (YPAR), a process of research and community engagement that centers collective experience, to enable youth to unpack Savannah’s past and present; speak out on critical issues affecting their families, friends, and neighborhoods; and ultimately transform Savannah. In addition to working locally, ART members traveled across the country, sharing with, learning from, and strategizing for change with peers and leaders in like communities nationwide. The ultimate goal was to inform, in collaborate with Deep’s Action Policy Team, the publication of Deep Center’s first policy brief. This brief, to be published on October 8, 2019, makes recommendations for legislative and administrative policies that will make Savannah a safe place for working-class youth, youth of color, and other marginalized young people. Simply put, policies and systems changes created for and by young people. 

Photo by Geoff Johnson

Youth Summit Identifies, Presents

“There’s always a police officer at the school; it made it feel like there was always a threat rather than a safe feeling.”  —Youth Summit participant

“My friend was suspended because she was wearing something that would ‘distract the boys.’ It was really frustrating” —Youth Summit participant

“I want teachers to understand our mental health better. People of color are more targeted. I want them to treat us more human.” —Youth Summit participant

ART’s work culminated in the final 2019 Youth Summit, held in late August. The team came together with young people they had worked with throughout the year—youth representing groups like Youth Intercept, Front Porch, Savannah Youth Ambassadors, Chatham County Youth Commission, and AGES Empowerment—to research, conduct interviews, and gather feedback. Participants shared the research they had spent many months working on. And they had difficult conversations about how issues like mental health, court involvement, access to resources, and the lack of equal treatment are all rooted in institutional systems, rather than just “bad” interpersonal behavior. 

Photo by Geoff Johnson

What’s Next: Youth-powered Policy Recommendations

On October 8, Deep will publish our very first policy brief. Entitled Youth-powered Policy Recommendations for a More Equitable Savannah 2019, the brief details policy reform ideas created for and by Savannah’s young people. We know of no other time in Chatham County’s history when youth have been empowered in this way, as both researchers and subjects in a community-wide investigation into systemic injustice and solutions.

At a rollout event on October 8, Deep will invite stakeholders and elected leaders to learn about what barriers Savannah’s young people need dismantled in order for them to be able to thrive.

Now that ART’s  2019 research is complete, University of Georgia researchers have aggregated their data and Deep will soon publish their findings in a summary report. And ART will begin planning with Deep staff how they can use their discoveries and policy ideas to engage Savannah in conversations about what true transformation for young people and families looks like. After a yearlong process of driving the kind of hard and complicated conversations Savannah needs to have, ART participants can truly say: “We can create the change, and we are the change we seek.”