Can you tell me about the positions you hold in the community?
I am a member of Peer Court, a restorative justice program for youth. I spend most of my Monday nights doing Peer Court. I am also a part of Youth City Government where we challenge our own bias and perspectives.
Why did you start getting involved with Peer Court?
I was nominated by a teacher, but the reason I joined Peer Court was to become involved in the community. My mother has always been inspiring, changing people’s lives, really caring about them. She always talks about injustices of the world and of people’s challenges in life. Anyway, I feel I have been more aware, critical and curious because of my mom. Like her, I wanted to actually do something. Knowing about issues is not the same as actually witnessing them or listening to real voices that have gone through these situations. I think I’ve become a better human being, a more understanding one, than I was last year. The youth that I see are like me, and I am changed by them as much as I hope they are changed by Peer Court.
What is the School-to-Prison pipeline and what most concerns you about this issue?
The school-to-prison-pipeline is the one way tunnel from learning at school to going to prison. It’s shocking how fast one can tumble down this tunnel. Even though the school may not know this, one suspension can harm a child’s life. The funny thing is, I was introduced to this topic just this year, but throughout this learning experience, I have remembered events in my childhood that I have never analyzed further. I remember this one kid, who we all called “troublemaker” in our minds, being suspended from school. We didn’t know why, and we didn’t question it further. “Troublemakers” get in trouble and that’s that. I’m not saying this kid is now a “criminal”, I don’t know where he is now. But to think that one suspension could make a kid de-value himself or have negative affects later on…I am glad that there’s research out, that it is now identified as an issue.
It hurts me that some behaviors “natural” to children or part of their learning the rights and wrongs, can be categorized as “evil” or “bad” and could get them suspended. Personally, my brother was always the different kid, the one who thought and acted differently. When a teacher grabbed his shoulder, he got scared and ran away. He was branded a “troublemaker” by the teachers. My point is, labels given to young students can really have an effect on their self-esteem.
Why did you want to get involved with organizing the Youth Leadership and Activism Conference?
I feel like when we’re young, little students in elementary or middle school, we don’t really have a voice. Or at least that’s what I felt. Everyone should know how to make their voice count in this world. Youth especially. I wanted to empower youth like myself. Alone, you don’t know that you can be an activist, but when someone tells you that you can, and people will actually listen to what you have to say, that’s empowering.
What was the most helpful piece of information you got out of the conference?
A lot of things I learned during the process of planning the event. The speakers were also really great, and really inspiring. They’ll always remind me of their belief in us, that we can make a difference, no matter how small, and carry on their legacy. For me, learning about op-ed writing was most impactful, because that’s something I will strive to do throughout the years to communicate to people about issues I’m passionate about.
Varesh Gorabi, has written an excellent Op Ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune on Feb. 28, “Help us divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline.”