Youth Studies Program Introduces Film Series for Annual Community and Youth Organizing Event

Black & white photo of CUNY students protesting in 1970s used as still from the documentary The Five Demands

For the fifth year running, the Youth Studies program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) hosted its annual Community & Youth Organizing series. In past years, the series utilized a discussion panel format. This year, the series took a novel approach and organized a virtual group watch for a series of documentary films exploring youth and/or community organizing principles in action.

Over a three-week period this past January, CUNY SPS Youth Studies adjunct lecturer Lumumba Bandele moderated this unique documentary screening series that highlighted grassroots organizations, past and present, from New York City to Puerto Rico.

A long-time community activist, Professor Bandele teaches the Community and Youth Organizing winter intensive at CUNY SPS. Each January, the Youth Studies department extends three of Professor Bandele’s classes to the general public so the School can broadly share his wealth of knowledge. The film series runs concurrently with the winter intensive program.

For this year's series, the three films screened to an assembled virtual audience over several weeks in January were The Sun Rises in The East; The Five Demands; and We Still Here. After each film, Professor Bandele provided insightful commentary for the virtual attendees.

The first documentary screened, The Sun Rises in The East, chronicled the tremendous impact of The East, a community-based cultural organization founded in 1969 by youth in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The film recounts how The East became the epicenter for political movements such as the Black Panthers as well as a cultural hub for legendary jazz and poetry performances.

The next film screened, The Five Demands, presented a riveting story about the CUNY student strike in 1969 that changed the face of higher education forever. Archival footage and modern-day interviews detailed how the students at CUNY’s City College pushed against the institutional racism that had shut out people of color from other public universities for over a century.

For the final installment of this year’s series, the documentary We Still Here introduced a contemporary account of the Puerto Rican youth who navigated the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation and ultimately protested governmental inaction in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Sarah Zeller-Berkman, academic director for the CUNY SPS Youth Studies program, had enthusiastic praise for this year’s series.

“The Community and Youth Organizing series left us all inspired about the power of people, and in particular young people of color, to transform schools, communities, and institutions for the better,” said Dr. Zeller-Berkman. “It is important to our Youth Studies program to amplify these hidden histories where young people not only imagine that another world is possible but make it a reality. We are grateful to Professor Bandele for his curatorial wisdom, depth of content knowledge, and expert facilitation of the conversations after each film. He encourages us all to be part of making the world more a just place, in the here and now, in whatever ways we can.” 

About the CUNY SPS Youth Studies Program

The CUNY SPS MA in Youth Studies, the first program of its kind in New York, was established in 2017, and the BA in Youth Studies was launched in Fall 2022. These programs, along with the Advanced Certificate in Youth Studies, aim to support the needs of individuals ages 12 to 24 by training qualified frontline youth workers, directors, and administrators. In addition to offering a high-quality degree, the youth studies program has a research agenda that uses youth-adult partnerships and a critical participatory action research approach to inform youth policy and practice in NYC. Current projects include collaborations with ACS and DOE and Amplify, a set of new and innovative research tools designed to engage young people in city-wide policy-making and drive local action.

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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