The Advocacy Academy, a transformational Social Justice Fellowship which brings together the worlds of activism and youth leadership, ended a two week residency at Regent’s with their Parliamentary Speech Day on Monday 3 September.
An outreach partner of the University, the 17 Advocates, aged from 16-18, are all going into year 12 or 13 and living or going to school in South London. Working with top campaigners, creatives, academics and coaches, they develop the skills to lead a grassroots campaign in their community, and on the final day of the two week residential, delivered a speech to Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood in Parliament.
Speaking courageously, passionately and all from personal experience, the Advocates, in six different groups, launched their campaigns and spoke on issues such as the stigma around mental health in schools, decolonising the curriculum, Latinx representation, compassionate education for students struggling in schools, and racialised hypersexuality.
"The Summer Residential, affectionately known as The School for Social Justice, is the opening event of The Social Justice Leadership Fellowship. Over 12 days, 17 young people from across South London come together to learn about the biggest issues facing the 21st Century from housing inequality to gender identity, before launching their own campaigns in Parliament,” explains the Academy’s Director of Development, Saba Shafi.
“It's a beautiful, intense and immersive experience where our young people build the first bonds of their community and take their first steps on the journey to become social change leaders. In many ways, the Parliamentary speech day is the true beginning of the Fellowship. It is the point where our Advocates truly take up the mantle and shoulder the responsibility for positive social change in their communities.”
Each campaign closed with a sequence of questions for Helen Hayes; asking to be put in touch with their relevant MP, or to aid the Advocates in taking their campaigns further – to ensure changes are made by policy makers in future, or to fight against the injustices of those who are yet to experience what the Advocates have already been through.
Akhera, 17, was feeling dis-empowered as a young person, and sought out the Academy as a way to implement change.
"I was seeing all the things that were wrong with society, but I didn't know how to change them.
"The Advocacy Academy has been really beneficial because not only has it helped me improve myself in terms of strategy and tactics, it has also been morally uplifting. I’ve learnt how to be an ally for other marginalised communities I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
"My campaign will work towards decolonising the curriculum in secondary schools. My passion for this topic has sprung out of the lack of historical context within the curriculum for people of colour, the lack of criticality and inclusion of different cultural perspectives. The dialogue around what we learn and how we learn isn’t accessible to BME groups.
"I will be asking for an educational pack into a minimum of three London schools, and eventually all London schools. I want more student-led education to happen in schools that are representative and engage a range of people."
Also in attendance at Portcullus House was Vimmi Singh, a Trustee of Regent’s University London, and a strong advocate for women’s equality, having founded a social enterprise, the Dynamic Asian Women’s Network; a network for leadership and management training of Asian women, in 2013. Over the next six years, alongside training women for business, management and leadership roles, she championed the cause of equality and diversity in the UK.
“I was so inspired by the work of the Advocacy Academy. The extraordinary, young and talented students had strong voices literally and metaphorically and the Academy is enabling them with tools in their fight for social justice. Each young speaker talked from deep personal experience and demonstrated courage beyond their years.
“They brought to light injustices that are not yet taken into consideration by policy makers or indeed our political or economic systems. Some of the issues raised were about mental health, need for compassion by teachers and administrators at schools, curriculum updates needed to represent the current reality of student bodies, perceptions about minority students and girls of colour, stereotyping of gender roles and presentations about how perceptions about identities and backgrounds leave some behind," said Singh.
“This is the cutting edge of the next wave of youth/education campaigns and it is delightful that Regent's is playing a role in enabling and empowering future leaders to create a better world. I look forward to our continued involvement in the Advocacy Academy.”
The intensive two week residential is now in its fourth year at Regent's, and includes workshops on topics such as economic equality, toxic masculinity, trans and non binary equality and migration and migrant identities.
“The Summer Residential is a critical stage of the Fellowship and it wouldn't be possible without the support of Regent's and the tireless staff who support us during our stay," added Shafi.
"We have been hosting the residential at Regent's for four years and hope to continue to do so for as long as we can!"
Each year, the Academy has over four applicants for every Fellowship place. To keep expanding, the Academy will be opening the first ever campus for youth activists in the UK in Brixton. The new building will be a space of learning and empowerment, where young people can come together to organise for real and lasting change - but they need your help. Donate here.