written by Morgan Switzer-Rodney
So many changes have happened over the summer, and we want to first thank everyone who has supported us during this pivotal transition phase. Check Your Head (CYH) has made internal transformations, re-envisioning and re-structuring our main focus for the last few months, and we’ve started putting this work into action. If you have not read our initial announcement earlier in the summer, you can do so here. To summarize the progress we’ve made since that update, CYH is moving away from facilitating workshops and running our own separate projects. Instead, we are undertaking more of a liaison role between grassroots organizations/community organizers and institutions. Our primary reasons for taking this approach are rooted in community calls to action, as we’ve identified that this liaison capacity is a substantial gap in the sector that our organization can address whereas workshop-delivery is an area that many other local organizations now focus on. This shift is also informed by our needs, as a staff team of all racialized youth committed to liberation-driven efforts, to do work that aligns with our values and ethics as well as to work for an organization we can feel proud associating with. The following outline details the strides we’ve made in each priority area we pinpointed in the initial announcement.
- solidarity-building that facilitates responsiveness to, and working in alignment with, larger calls to action for systemic change within our sector and beyond
Communities and movements around the world have been calling for change in all colonial structures, including the non-profit industrial complex, for quite some time. With the recent uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and many others continually killed by the anti-Black colonial police state, demands for justice have been amplified. We’ve been dreaming-up internal transformations for a long time as a team, and decided to focus our energy on taking these necessary leaps with the onset of COVID-19. Concurrently, larger community calls demanding accountability from our sector was a further catalyst that affirmed the responsibility to align our work with the needs and interests of grassroots movements. This solidarity commitment informed how we approached the rest of our strategic direction priorities.
- relevant programming that is informed by the needs and interests of communities and movements we’re striving to center
What we certainly know is that at the center of all we’re doing and striving towards will be the needs and interests of multiply-marginalized BIPOC youth. Our primary role in this work will be to function as a liaison for groups that need funding/want to apply for grants but don’t have access to things like charitable status, which is one of the primary barriers that grassroots collectives and organizers face when trying to access resources to sustain their already impactful work. This shift will allow us to get material support into the hands of those who are both most directly impacted as well as most isolated from the resources they need as they organize with and for their communities. Depending on the requests of groups we’re collaborating with, we’re preparing to support in various capacities like identifying, researching and writing grants, building partnerships, offering/outsourcing workshops, and supporting outreach efforts.
- financial sustainability that enables resource redistribution to directly-impacted communities and grassroots youth leaderships already doing the actual work
We recognize that we actually aren’t the experts. The folks on the ground, on the frontlines, those who do social justice work everyday for and alongside their communities are the experts. And they should be compensated as such. While striving for financial sustainability amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a very small youth-led nonprofit is quite a substantial challenge, we’re making redistribution practices a central part of how we facilitate our efforts, collaborations and partnerships as outlined earlier. This change allows us to approach resources from a place of abundance and collectivity, rather than scarcity and hoarding. We don’t 100% know what these shifts are all going to look like in a year, or in five years. We’re creating the path as we go, (un)learning along the way, and pacing ourselves accordingly!
- an equitable internal structure driven by and for multiply-marginalized youth
Janani and I transitioned into interim roles of Strategic Direction Planners to work closely alongside our Executive Director Maisaloon, collaborating with the Board as a staff collective to envision CYH’s future. The team is drafting policies to ensure that multiply-marginalized youth ages 15-25 are prioritized in our hiring practices. We’re moving more into a shared leadership model starting this Fall, with a Director of Community Engagement working with the Executive Director to operationalize our new organizational vision. We’re also welcoming two short-term roles, an Outreach Coordinator and a Strategic Direction Analyst, to directly involve other multiply-marginalized youth in informing this transformative work. We’ve had discussions about striving for equity (not equality), which includes disrupting hierarchical norms such as through providing higher hourly wages whenever possible for temporary positions relative to permanent staff in order to account for the fact that they are in precarious roles and don’t have access to benefits. We’ve also identified that turn-over isn’t necessarily something to avoid; especially as a youth organization that should always have youth running it, CYH can be a meaningful stepping stone. We’re accordingly establishing a transition fund to support youth staff and set them up for success in between jobs. Additionally, we recognize the value in intergenerational mentorship from our elders as well as fellow youth. As we intentionally implement an all-youth staff team, we see our Board as the place where we can seek intergenerational mentorship and this will inform our outreach moving forward.
All the work we’ve outlined so far has entailed immense collective effort and is ongoing, so we look forward to keeping you posted along the way. There are so many things happening that we’re both excited and nervous about. But this is the work we want to be doing. This is the work other organizations/institutions and oppressive forces have told us is impossible or takes too long. Don’t get it wrong, re-structuring the entire inner workings of a nonprofit is intense labour that’s emotionally and mentally exhausting, especially as racialized women and femmes committed to liberation. But it’s also rewarding, and very much necessary. As multiply-marginalized youth, we should all have places to work that are safe, that value us, and that are trying to break free from institutional bullshit. We’re bringing this transformation to fruition by making our priorities clear as well as treating community demands for justice with the urgent care and tangible solidarity required. If we fail doing this work in the face of many systemic barriers we’re constantly having to navigate, at least we can say we tried with integrity and truly know that we did not stay complacent within the nonprofit industrial complex we operate under.