YUIR Makes a Difference in Teens’ Lives and the Community

By Serena Zets- 11th Grade, Pittsburgh CAPA

YUIR (Youth Undoing Institutional Racism) might be the most productive Pittsburgh activist coalition that you haven’t heard of, but they’re trying to change that through their newest campaign and advocacy work. The group has evolved from its roots as a racial justice Quaker youth group into what it is today, a local chapter of a national organization dedicated to ending the school to prison pipeline. The Pittsburgh chapter is an inclusive multiracial group of youth (ages 14 through 23) who discuss, rally, educate, and work on issues surrounding institutional racism.

The group’s meeting place, the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting House, is flooded with natural light and plastered with signs calling for peace and equity; the space is light and hopeful even when the discussion topics aren’t. At their August 21st gathering, the group discussed event planning, fundraising, and goal setting. The conversation was preparation for their upcoming weekend of training in October.

In addition to planning the October training, YUIR is currently working on a campaign within Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) that would add an anti-racist lens to the district’s student code of conduct and restorative practices pilot. While the campaign is just starting, the group has already recorded a radio interview with the Thomas Merton Center and secured a meeting with PPS’s assistant superintendent, Dr. Ware Allen. Few teens could ever dream of taking on a school district’s protocol, but YUIR stresses the importance of youth community engagement and its collective impact on institutions. One participant, Sophie explained how YUIR provides the solidarity and resources that youth need to make a change.

When asked about their involvement in YUIR, each member emphasized YUIR’s sense of unity and support. Mae, a senior at Serra Catholic, said “The community aspect is the reason that I’m here, I feel really isolated in the rest of my life.” This message was echoed by Mae’s peers including Nyjah, a senior at Ellis, who said “Finding a group of like minded people is really good. Hearing their perspectives has allowed me to  learn and grow.” Another participant, Kosher said “I’m all for positivity in the human race.”  Overall, YUIR is a safe space for youth to learn, grow, and have a voice all while making a positive change.

The group meets biweekly in the summer and weekly during the school year as well as hosting two weekends of training a year. The weekly Sunday meetings will resume on September 4th at the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting House. The next YUIR weekend will be October 21-23 and more details will be available soon. To get involved with YUIR, contact Amanda Gross at AGross@afsc.org.


Serena Zets is a junior at Pittsburgh CAPA and resides in Squirrel Hill. She works as a freelance writer and her work has been featured in Youth Express, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette and Sonic Blume Zine. When she isn’t writing, she’s probably baking or watching Gilmore Girls.

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