I’m Jess and I grew up in a few different suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I moved to Portland to study Psychology at the University of Portland, where I’m going to be a Junior this fall. Early on in my studies, I discovered that I have an interest in how society functions, especially in relation to inequality and crime, and added Sociology on the criminology track as a second major.
This summer, I have been using this passion during my work at Urban League of Portland. Urban League is a nationwide organization that has been in place for over a hundred years working to protect the civil rights of people of color and provide advocacy for those in need. They have been responsible for spearheading civil rights legislation and being a positive force in the lives African Americans. There are over 90 Urban League’s across the country and the Urban League of Portland is one of the only ones working with an entire state’s population; we work with people from all across Oregon as well as Southwest Washington. We offer workforce services, community health services, youth programming, senior services, civil engagement opportunities, and advocacy. I, specifically, am working in youth services.
I’m helping run a High School employment summer camp for about 15 students of color. In the program. we teach the students how to do things like write resume’s and cover letters, how to apply and interview for jobs, and help them make a plan for their future whether that be in college or in the workforce. We take students on field trips to potential employers and colleges including the Pacific Northwest College of Arts, Nike, Wieden and Kennedy, and OHSU. Every Thursday is an art day for the students where we do creative activities like painting or pottery. Many of the students have jobs, summer school, or other camps so we don’t see many of them everyday and we usually have about five youth on any given day, some days more some days less. This gives plenty of opportunities to get to know the youth on a personal level.
My time at Urban League is coming to a close, I only have about three days of service left. Although I feel like my time with the youth has been short, I’ve gotten to know a few of them decently well. During my time with them I’ve had conversations about gang violence in their neighborhoods, bullying, fights they’ve gotten into, their opinions on police, their opinions on racial injustice, and how they want to make the world a better place. I’ve also learned about their aspirations to become lawyers, doctors, actors, business people, musicians, and teachers. Many of them don’t know what they need to do to get where they want to go, but we’re trying to help them figure all that out. A lot of them are from single parent households, are low income, and the Urban League is where they go to find resources and spend time with people like them. Portland is extremely white and just giving youth a place to go where they can spend time with people who look like them is extremely valuable. A few of the high schoolers are fantastic leaders and are already making differences in their communities. All of the youth in to program are extremely bright and strong individuals and I’m thankful that I was able to play a part in helping them accomplish their goals. It was difficult getting them to open up at first, especially because I’m white and I’ll admit I have no idea what most of them are going through, but over time we found common ground.
I joined the Interns for Justice because I wanted to gain more experience working with disenfranchised populations, but originally wanted to focus rehabilitation for people who have committed crimes. During service this summer, I learned about how valuable it is to not only help people who have committed crimes gain skills to live in society productively, but also to give people resources so that they don’t commit crimes in the first place. Giving youth skills to get jobs, go to college, and just generally letting them know that they are valuable and that they can do great things is helping to do just that.