Empowering Chicago Students: AfG's Collaboration with Chicago Youth Philanthropy Group

By: Isabelle Canaan
Isabelle has double duty as Chairman for Education and Co-chair on the Executive Board for the Chicago Youth Philanthropy GroupCYPG, a student organization at University of Chicago, was Allowance for Good's first Allow Good collaboration. They strive to "empower the community, one student at a time." In partnership with CYPG, we are teaching over 200 students on Chicago’s South Side at King College Prep High School and Kenwood Academy. CYPG has also acted as our working partner to develop an additional AfG chapter at Northwestern University. 

A black, lesbian, obese, bad feminist, Roxane Gay is the exemplary fighter.  Against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, a feminist rebirth, and a re-examination of societal values, she, in a talk last fall, discussed allyship. An ally is not a passive role. You have to act, but must do so in a restrained manner, walking the fine line between being a spokesperson, but not THE spokesperson. You must actively fight for a cause without donning it. 

It is so easy now to pick up the banner of injustice, but without authenticity, sometimes when speaking for another you actually harden divisions. Every week, as part of the Chicago Youth Philanthropy Group (CYPG), I discuss current events with public high school juniors and seniors on Chicago’s Southside. Our goal is to give the students a safe space to champion issues and voice discontent. Yet, it would be disingenuous for me, someone who did not go through their experience, to stand in the spotlight or drown them out. As an ally, I have a responsibility to fight, but I should never forget that I am an accessory to their cause. 

My role is a mentor and a facilitator, but also a fellow student. We college students, we are often trapped in an academic and social bubble, viewing the city through the prism of our campus. CYPG has been my way to connect with the neighborhoods beyond the ivory tower and the echo chamber that is academia. My students offer a different, arguably “real-er” perspective. They do not have the luxury of stepping away into the library and forgetting about the discrimination, danger, and dysfunction that exists on the Southside. They confront these issues on a daily basis and it is exceptionally rewarding to see the classroom dynamic succeed. When a student can get up and share a personal anecdote about a time in their lives when they were directly confronted with one of the issues we discuss, the classroom atmosphere succeeds. A safe environment allows students to share openly, without fear of judgment. 

After creating a safe environment, the next most important role as a teacher is to push the students to remain hopeful and to really believe in their individual power to change. There are times when the students will sigh and say, “Nothing’s going to change”, but we must show them that they have the power to create change, no matter how small and no matter how gradual.