Shades of Change - Everyday Democracy's blog

Service in the South Side

Jamil Ragland
April 15, 2021

The passion to help others burned brightly in Juleny from a young age. As a sophomore in high school growing up in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, she was doing community work in her neighborhoods- community action projects, art pop-up installations, and the tried-and-true footwork of handing out flyers. She told me that the adults and mentors she worked with always kept it real with her, and that their influence was important for her growth.

“I want to do the same thing for a young person who looks like me, and Afro-Latina. You know, pay it forward.”

Juleny went to college, earning her master’s degree in education. Along the way, she transitioned from the mentee into the mentor. She worked in a juvenile detention center with the Chicago Police. Eventually she made her way to Mikva Challenge, an organization dedicated to empowering youth’s voice.

It was here in her work providing direct service youth programming that she encountered Everyday Democracy and the Dialogue to Change (D2C) process. A group of EvDem facilitators visited Mikva Challenge to introduce the D2C process. Juleny was interested, and when a friend suggested that they both apply to Everyday Democracy’s Institute for Community Change Leaders (ICCL), Juleny was on board.

She was accepted and attended the ICCL’s three-day institute in Connecticut where she learned more about D2C, civic leadership and building relationships. Her project involved partnering with a friend to conduct the D2C process with youth in south and west Chicago, focusing specifically on the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 epidemic.

Juleny modified the D2C process to be more open-ended for her youth. “The dialogue process itself…it opens itself up to be able to form relationships and to be able to really build trust and build this sense of vulnerability,” she said. “Everyone is speaking up and sharing their truth in a way that doesn’t seem judgmental or anything like that, setting up the dialogue so it can be a free-flowing discussion of raw emotions and ideas.”

She now works with a group of young people on the west side on leadership development through social-emotional learning and mentorship. The group is designed to tackle public safety issues from the perspective of young people. So far, the group has filmed anti-violence PSAs with aldermen and hosted community events. “The kids want to foster a sense of safety, foster a sense of change. They want to say, ‘yeah we’re young people in this community, we care about our community, we care about making it better for us and everyone who comes after us.’”

Juleny has been working in her community since she was a youth herself, and she now has the backing of the ICCL as she goes forward in her work. “ICCL was a learning experience. I enjoyed collaborating with people from across the country, and it served as a good networking event. I learned how important it is to network with people from across the country for troubleshooting, support, and other things. I hope that ICCL continues and that a lot more people get to benefit from it.”


Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.