Congresswoman and Southwest Detroiter, Rashida Tlaib is engaging BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) youth through a transformative new civic engagement fellowship she started in 2020.
The fellowship, called the Mama Lila Cabbil Youth Engagement Fellowship, now in its third year, is named after one of the many life-long, visionary Detroit Activists who inspired Congresswoman Tlaib.
Fifteen fellows from the new 12th Congressional District are chosen every year for a new cohort to learn valuable organizing skills, about social justice issues, and how to mobilize voters around these issues. The program is an 8-month fellowship held remotely, with some in-person aspects, as well.
The fellowship is doing more than just educating Detroit youth. It is empowering and providing a space to expose young folks to the power they have to change their communities for the better.
“I wanted a fellowship that exposed movement work to our young people in a way that’s beyond what they see on social media, actual people that experienced the seventies and the eighties and that have been fighting for access to clean water, environmental injustices and so forth. I always tell this to participants, I don’t want them intimidated by the government,” said Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
And, the program has done just that.
The goal of the fellowship is to bring younger people into this conversation while also motivating and inspiring them to be more involved in their community—that means making sure they have a say in what’s happening and who is making the decisions.
“In this (fellowship) your voice gets heard. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters what you do. You actually have the ability to do something and you are able to do it and you just get a sense of fulfillment,” said current fellow, Noura Alfaady.
Layla Taha, program manager for Mama Lila Cabbil Youth Engagement Fellowship , works hard to ensure that the fellows receive a robust curriculum that continues to inspire them to speak up. This is where the student meets the teacher. Taha invites guests, who are local activists and organizers from Detroit, to facilitate trainings on issues impacting our Detroit communities.
“We’ve received two different organizing trainings where we brought community organizers in to teach them how to organize. We’ve had two different communications training sessions to prepare them for having those kinds of conversations. We’ve done coalition building training, so we’ve done a lot of different training around how to organize and how to engage in your community,” Taha said. “We’ve also covered a lot of issues in terms of criminal justice reform, environmental justice, specifically focusing on the water crisis in the US and how that’s affected places like Flint and Detroit, we’ve covered a wide range of topics and we talk about them through a very progressive lens.”
Along with sparking interest in our young leaders of tomorrow, the fellowship, created by Tlaib, allows for students from all across Metro-Detroit to connect on a deeper level. Not only are they learning about issues affecting their communities but they also get to learn about each other, what they’re passionate about, and create a great bond through advocacy and community engagement.
“I really love talking to my colleagues, the people in the fellowship are literally so cool. I’ve never met other students like the students in the fellowship here,” said Desmond Kuhn, current program fellow. “Getting to go to this (fellowship) where I can meet people who are just as passionate about social justice makes me so happy.”
The fellowship will be preparing for its future cohorts and is looking to get more Detroit youth involved. If you know any students interested in participating, email Layla Taha about the next fellowship deadline at firstname.lastname@example.org
Juanita Zuniga is a graduate of Kalamazoo College with a degree in Anthropology/Sociology and English. She was born and raised in SW Detroit and still resides here today. She is very passionate about her community and hopes to serve her community through writing. Juanita is a Latin history and music enthusiast in her spare time. She is also a Cancer Sun, Libra Moon, and Cancer Rising.