Before I start, let’s talk about what social justice really is:
"Social justice is structural change that increases opportunity for those who are least well off politically, economically, and socially. Social justice is grounded in the values and ideals of equity, access, and inclusion for all members of society, particularly for poor communities and communities of color that historically and structurally have experienced social inequities. Those who work for social justice push to uncover the underlying causes of inequity and seek systemic change in institutions and policies as well as socially upheld behavioral norms that foster fair treatment and share of benefits. Social justice encourages change to come from those communities that are most affected by social inequity, involving people most affected in working on the problems and decisions. It employs a combination of tactics such as advocacy related to policy, grassroots organizing, litigation, and communications." (cite)
When I first got the idea for Lab 29, I knew I needed to do some research before jumping right into the next step of starting a nonprofit. I made calls to professors, researchers, and educators who could provide insight into the program I was trying to develop. Would our program be helpful, impactful, and positively received? What would perceptions be of non-natives working with indigenous communities in education? Who should we contact and work with inside of the communities?
While I did receive positive feedback, I was warned of the challenges we would also have to overcome. Sometimes it is easier to look at the history of missions like ours and get weighed down by the negatives. We actively choose to look at the positives and realize that while others may not yet understand why we do what we do--they will.
One thing that keeps us going is seeing all of the wonderful Native American educational initiatives that are already in place, and the work of brilliant students across the U.S. Most recently, I found Kelly Charley. She worked in high school on developing solar heaters for Navajo Nation to help homes on the reservation have access to heat. She designed solar heaters that were suitable for traditional homes on the reservation that did not have electricity or running water. Many families were using coal or wood to heat their homes, and Kelly wanted to tackle this challenge.
This kind of creative innovation is exactly why we feel implementing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) programs that are designed for each unique indigenous community is so important. Inspiring youth, educators, and community leaders through innovation and entrepreneurship while offering opportunities to develop skills in STEAM-focused fields will create a long-lasting impact in their communities. It provides the space to learn and grow while also analytically developing solutions to challenges they face.
We encourage everyone to look into all of the positive programs and successful initiatives that are designed, operated, and executed by Native Americans who are from different tribes and geographical locations, but work to make a difference:
There are many more organizations, groups, and individuals who are working tirelessly to make a difference for their communities. Take the time to look into what is happening near you, and how you can get involved with working for social justice and keeping the positivity!!