Growing up in Monticello, Somaya Bracy was taught by family that all people should be treated the same.
“It was a lesson I carried forward, but as I got older, I realized not everyone is treated equally,” she said. “I wanted to do something about that.”
The Monticello High School junior didn’t just talk about doing something. She got involved in the Youth Economic Group, an initiative started in Sullivan County by the Rural Migrant Ministries as a way to address the lack of jobs and fair pay in the largely rural area.
The group — known as the YEG — spawned a program called “Bags for Justice,” which enables kids to earn money while learning about social justice issues. And through NYSUT Executive Vice President Emeritus Alan Lubin’s association with the ministry, Bags for Justice just last month became NYSUT’s first-ever student-member group.
Though it only became part of NYSUT a few weeks ago, the group is attending this year’s Representative Assembly and sponsored its own booth at the RA in the NYSUT Services and Benefits on Display, where it is selling its American-made bags and T-shirts.
Dawn Hurley, coordinator of the Youth Economic Group, said because students are actual owners of Bags for Justice, they do not have collective bargaining rights. But otherwise, the students are entitled to most other benefits other NYSUT members enjoy.
The group, said Hurley, consists of a diverse swath of students, many of whom are earning money for college through the sale of their socially conscious merchandise. Among the items the group sells is a line of “DREAMer” bags, Hurley said, adding that some of the students “are DREAMers themselves.”
Bracy said her involvement in both YEG and Bags for Justice has been invaluable.
“I have learned to speak more confidently and efficiently in front of diverse groups of people,” said Bracy. “And through this, I’m able to do something about injustice.”