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Get Empathy: Bringing A Community to High School Students


January 22nd, 2018

I first got involved in social justice work at the age of 14, the summer after my freshman year of high school. I was totally politicized by a youth-led service learning trip to New Orleans that I went on with an organization called NY2NO I spent the remaining three years of high school organizing and running the organization with other high school student leaders, and many of those people, and other alumni of the organization, are still active in social justice and organizing to some degree today. The organization even just recently had their 10 year reunion gathering.

Those years of high school organizing were so impactful and have guided my commitment to organizing and activism over the last seven years. And I know that so many of the over 1,000 students who have participated in the organization feel the same way. But I always wondered, how can we create a program like that for high school students all across the country? How can we politicize and create life-long activists out of young people? Get Empathy, a program that has a long history at the Center, is definitely one of the answers.

Get Empathy is a program that utilized public narrative to create alternative cultures within high school that value vulnerability and social justice. In the past, Paul and others have run previous iterations of the program, mostly with LAUSD students. They had incredible results. But the model they were using back then was not sustainable, and eventually fell apart when funding ran out. This time around, we’ve been working with an incredible leader from the Get Empathy of the past, Mario Johonson, who is the Dean of Students at New Roads School in Santa Monica. Ever since becoming involved with Get Empathy five years ago, Mario has been working to incorporate many aspects of the program into the school throughout his duties as the Dean of Students. Since August, we’ve been meeting with him weekly to strategically plan for New Roads to host and be the pilot school for an integrative Get Empathy program that is incorporated throughout many activities and years at the school. Eventually, we are hoping that once the program is perfected at New Roads, it can become a model for other schools to look to when creating their own Get Empathy programs, and we will have a thriving, decentralized network of high school students who are empathetic and radicalized to solve this generations’ most pressing problems.

It has been such a joy to work with Mario and his wealth of knowledge, experiences, and passion for the students he works with. While our strategic planning process is coming to an end in the remaining weeks of the year, we look forward to continuing to support him and New Roads as they adopt the Get Empathy baby and raise it to be the strongest and healthiest it can be.

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