Home News Center Young leader Bethlehem Ferede shares why youth should have the platform to advocate for themselves.

Young leader Bethlehem Ferede shares why youth should have the platform to advocate for themselves.

March 23, 2020
Roselyn Kumazah

Where are you currently working right now?

I am a first-year at Duke University so I’m primarily a student right now, but I’m also working part time at a non-profit organization called “Made in Durham'' in North Carolina. We focus on making sure that youth and young adults aged 14-24 have postsecondary opportunities. We work with stakeholders in the area, including students, businesses, teachers and other non-profit organizations to make sure they have these opportunities.

What is your vision for youth justice?

I want young people to have the platform to be able to advocate for themselves. Many of the youth who are working with non-profit organizations do not have a seat at the decision-making table. Youth justice is making sure youth have a legitimate, powerful platform where they can voice their concerns and make real systemic and institutional change, rather than other people telling them what the problem is and creating “solutions” that probably won’t work.

What are your responsibilities at Made in Durham?

One of my main responsibilities is helping students with action projects at their respective schools. I work with about four to five high schools in Durham. Each school has a cohort of around 2-5 members, and they try to implement action projects in their school. We try to implement a racial equality framework within their action projects; whether that means establishing a big brother/big sister-type program to help underrepresented freshmen students get acclimated, addressing discipline disparities for suspensions, or increasing advanced placement (AP)/ honors enrollment for students of color. My work at each school varies. Students at their respective schools decide what their biggest problems are, and how applying a racial equity lens will help them fix them. I make sure that they keep their action projects progressing by helping them set up meetings with people in their schools and assisting with any groundwork they might not have time to do, as well as helping them develop ideas and strategies.

How did you get into youth justice reform work?

During my freshman year of high school, I joined student government. When I would propose ideas, I realized that sometimes – even if it would get implemented the way I suggested – it wasn't helping the group that I had in mind. Instead, it would usually only help the students that are already helped by the systems that are in place at the school. When I noticed this, I wanted to target my classmates that needed the help and the voice (myself included). I tried to find other ways by starting clubs, and joining other programs, both in and out of school that focused on equity, including Made in Durham and the Youth Justice Project under the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which pushed me into youth justice specifically. I got involved in equity work and youth justice work at the same time because youth justice isn't youth justice unless it is equitable.

What is something you like to do in your free time as a self-care practice?

A self-care practice I like to do is watch Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” repeatedly while doing my hair!  I also really enjoy writing poetry.

Is there someone you look up to as a role model/motivator?

Someone I really look up to the most would be my grandfather. He was a thoughtful and respectful third party who really tried to grasp every part of a situation and look at things holistically, which is an approach I find really hard to do unless it’s intentional. Partially because I think the political environment is understandably really polarized. It is very hard to rationally look at the whole picture, especially when the topics that mean the most to us in equity work are so poignant. He did not speak a lot, but when he did, it was very impactful and straight to the point; he did not waste any words. His precision and thoughtfulness were really admirable. He prioritized listening and understanding, which I find particularly relevant especially in work like this.

What is your biggest challenge about this line of work?

My biggest challenge is understanding that things will rarely happen when or how I want them to happen. You can put as much effort as you want into organizing work, but a lot of the factors that push the work forward or make them ultimately “successful” are out of your control. We all love it when we collectively work hard on a project and it works out, but that just isn’t the outcome all the time – and it’s okay! Learning that my individual part is just one thing going on in the realm of organizing work and that it’s part of this larger umbrella of social change that I can’t rush or have control over is hard to grasp but I’m definitely developing the understanding and patience for it.  

What are your future plans 5-10 years from now?

My plan for the future is to continue school, so finishing undergrad and then hopefully going to law school and becoming a lawyer. Although, I also see myself going into teaching and maybe working in educational policy. Regardless of whether I decide to pursue law or go into teaching, juvenile justice and equity work is a priority for my future career.

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