SWARM, the CEFS-supported youth food activist group based in Goldsboro, was recently invited by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina to present at a youth empowerment event of the Clinton Global Initiative. As part of the program moderated by Chelsea Clinton, SWARMer Zion Culley, along with two youth from MGR Foundation in Pittsburgh and from Youth Empowered Solutions (YES) in Raleigh, spoke to a crowd of about 100 business, philanthropic and government leaders about their work in their local communities and how they are representative of youth around the world who are taking on leadership and decision-making positions. Below is an excerpt from Zion’s speech:

“North Carolina, like much of the South, has a long rich history of organizing to build power and make change. And much of this was led by young people, not much older than the youth represented here today. For example, in 1960, in the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins on the first day four youth refused to leave when they were not served because of the color of their skin. What you may NOT know is that the next day, more than twenty joined them. The third day over 60 Black students joined them and by the fourth day, more there were 300 protestors of all races and the next week, protests spread to several campuses across the South.

I say this to show you that what seems like small solutions can lead to profound impacts. That’s the legacy that we are a part of. Today, in my community, I see multiple issues that many of my classmates and their families are living with…-young folks competing with adults for fast food jobs, farmers who don’t sell enough fresh produce, communities who don’t make enough to buy fresh produce, people of color losing farmland and the agricultural traditions they grew up with…this is another reason I got involved with SWARM. In SWARM we believe that youth empowerment means amplifying the voices of young people and organizing to make concrete positive changes for our community.

Our campaign to eliminate “pink slime” and get a salad bar in one of our school cafeterias shows how we, as young people, can be decision makers and be experts in our own realities. We recognized that for some of our classmates, our school lunch is the ONLY quality meal of the day. So, we decided that this meal has to be fresh and safe for us and that this should be a right that all students should have. This was important to me personally because I have always been inspired by young people who have left the norm to follow a path of justice. Like the Greensboro Four and thousands who joined their struggle through their sit-ins and civil disobedience, my campaign work with SWARM engaged other young people to be empowered to be decision-makers.

SWARM brings together the best of Southern rooted community organizing, green economies, environmental justice and job creation. I am so proud to be here representing SWARM because rural voices of color are so often left out of these conversations.”

CEFS board members Jennifer MacDougall, Cheryl Queen and Michael Tiemann were in attendance. Recounting the evening, Mrs. Queen said, “Zion is a member and youth organizer of SWARM and he is passionate about rural youth of color organizing to change inequalities in the food system. His accomplishments and his remarks would have made all of you so proud and so humbled. Several other members of SWARM attended the dinner and they circulated and worked the room as if they do this every day!

[SWARM facilitator and CEFS Community-Based Food Systems Outreach Coordinator] Shorlette Ammons deserves kudos and appreciation for the remarkable job she does in changing the food system and local economy at the grassroots level, developing youth, and allowing these young people to shine and succeed.”

Congratulations Shorlette and SWARM!!

From the November 2012 E-Newsletter