Empowering youth in Surrey through leadership

March 09, 2021

This blog is guest authored by Jshandeep Jassal, co-director of Solid State Community Industries. Solid State was part of CERi's Community-Engaged Research Funding Program in the summer of 2020.

When I joined Solid State Community Industries as a researcher in the spring of 2020, I was excited to embark on a learning journey where I could have an impact in supporting racialized youth like myself.

I’m really interested in youth empowerment and understanding issues around autonomy. I was tasked with finding ways to improve the process of building and maintaining youth cohorts at Solid State. There are currently 16 cohorts of racialized youth from Surrey or surrounding areas at Solid State, all working toward building autonomous non-profit or for-profit enterprises with the help of mentors and other support staff.

Being funded by CERi allowed me to work exclusively with a cohort of young, South Asian girls from different cultural backgrounds called “Just.us Instincts” who were interested in creating an event that would bring different South Asian communities together. COVID-19 diverted this cohort’s plans and they were forced to be find creative solutions. It was difficult to plan safe social events during a time of social isolation. At the same time, online events just did not feel the same.

Just.us Instincts' first Whalley Blvd. street cleanup in Surrey, B.C. From left to right: Arshdeep, Sree, Bhavya, and Mishelle. Photo courtesy of Jshan Jassal.

Being an ethnically diverse group themselves, these girls decided their embodiment of community values is enough for the time being. They diverted their attention toward achieving smaller community initiatives, primarily to combat issues related to COVID-19 like the presumed rise of domestic abuse behind closed doors during social isolation.

During my research project I noticed it was difficult to fully engage with youth. This was partly because younger people are often controlled, managed, or guided by adults.

We do not value youth opinions, thoughts, or experiences as much as we should. I strive to not only understand this context that I’m working from, but also to encourage youth to be problem-solvers and their own personal activists. It’s important to support oneself and sometimes, when the world is not built to allow you to do so, you must carve your own personal pathway that encourages your growth and excellence.

It’s important to support oneself and sometimes, when the world is not built to allow you to do so, you must carve your own personal pathway that encourages your growth and excellence.

At Solid State,  youth are encouraged to be autonomous. Solid State follows the cooperative model which means that members make decisions democratically, equitably divide work and profits, and believe in building our community. Solid State is a little part of the world that actively counteracts capitalistic ways of doing and works to reconfigure important parts of society like business ownership, community building, and idea generation into a cooperative model.

Everyone should feel personally supported and healthy because the individual health of each person in a group contributes to the overall health of the group. Integrating the personal with the professional provides an additional layer of foundation for the cooperative to succeed – it makes work meaningful and enjoyable. I developed a central value around supporting youth casually in settings where we just sit together, talk about our lives, and provide each other with support.

I think as people who work with youth, we often go into situations assuming the position as a leader, teacher, or other type of person in charge. Youth leadership, and arguably leadership with any age group, does not always have to be explicit and authoritarian. People are active watchers, listeners, and learners. We should strive to lead in non-linear ways, so every voice feels valued and important.

Just.us Instincts' donation drop-off to Atira Women's Resource Society (cards for domestic violence survivors) and Shelter Movers (PPE supplies). Photo courtesy of Jshan Jassal.

About Jshandeep Jassal

Jshandeep Jassal recently graduated from SFU with a B.A. (Hons) with Distinction in Sociology, a minor in Criminology, and a Social Justice certificate.  She is a Co-Director at Solid State Community Industries in Surrey and a Community Builder with the United Way in Delta.

As a community development professional, Jshandeep is seeking to create positive narratives around racialized youth, especially in Surrey, Delta, and surrounding areas.

Learn more: solidstate.coop

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