How Young People Are Leading the Education Justice Movement

By Michelle Salazar & Taylor Cruz

At Our Turn, students are leading the charge in the fight for education justice. With the support of staff and peers, we are influencing those in power to join our movement. Like us, Our Turn student leaders across the country are positioning themselves at the forefront of influential places and spaces where we strive to create the change we long for in our education system. 


“One of my greatest realizations as a student has been that we can be the change we wish to see.” - Michelle Salazar


To help arm students with the skills and confidence to actualize their power on behalf of the education justice movement, Our Turn recently executed the Raise your Hand Leadership Boot Camp Series - training nearly two hundred students nationwide on effective organizing and advocacy strategies. During the training series, we noticed that various students were unaware of the power they had, and through the series students were able to unlock the knowledge needed to understand and leverage their current power. The themes of our series included: why students should organize, tools for organizing, organizing during a pandemic and beyond, and building relational power through collective action.


On the heels of the training series, a group of Our Turn student leaders leveraged our power during a meeting with the U.S. Department of Education. To support the meeting, students teamed up to write a letter to Secretary Cardona urging him to endorse Our Turn’s pro-student, pro-equity agenda - a roadmap for guiding education equity and education justice conversations, programs, and policies. The letter included 190 signatures and 54 testimonials from students across the country capturing our inequitable education experiences and making the case for why education justice should be prioritized immediately.


“The work is important to me as a student because I often feel as though I don’t have control over my educational experience. Although I was grateful to have gone to pretty good schools through the magnet and lottery system in North Carolina, that didn’t stop me from feeling like I was still being held back and controlled. I think being able to provide ways for students to create agency while going through the same hardships I did is important.” - Taylor Cruz


Our Turn student leaders also continue to advocate for centering student voice in education decision-making forums, showing up most recently in a webinar co-hosted with the Aspen Institute. Students advocated on behalf of best practices for the equitable allocation of American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds based on student guidance. The webinar showcased the significant impact students can make when their input is equally considered and valued alongside education leaders. 


Additionally, Our Turn student leaders recently played an important role in the OPeN Virtual Summit where we made the case for centering student experience and voice in pathway innovation and education conversations. Our Turn students were able to highlight our own personal education journeys and inequities faced, and, in return, provided attendees insight into the lived experiences of marginalized students across the nation. Emphasis was also placed on the work students have done and are doing across the country with respect to our student agenda such as advocating on behalf of safe education environments and culturally-competent practices to help us realize our full potential.


“As a first generation Latina who has had to conquer various barriers to achieve my education goals, I now hope to play an active role in creating pathways for students, like myself.” - Michelle Salazar


As we continue to harness and demonstrate our power to advance the movement, we urge you to join our fight for education justice today. Youth voice and input must be centered when education decisions are being made. To continue to meet the demands of students, BIPOC experiences must be elevated in our schooling and training. Recognize and honor the discomfort we are in, intentionally communicate with students in environments where we are not fearful of repercussions, and create open dialogue while committing to listening to and accepting our concerns.


Visit our website to learn more about how students are continuing to push the fight forward, sign petitions to show your support for our efforts, and, most importantly, share out about our mission. In the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”