In 2007, many Chicago-area student groups were taking action against genocide, but their efforts were not coordinated. So I started connecting with area student groups and created Youth United for Darfur to address the need for cooperation between these groups. In April 2008, we held the United for Darfur Conference, which aimed to educate students about the genocide in Darfur and how to effectively take action against it. Professional activists, Lost Boys of Sudan, and state legislators spoke at the event, which drew over 150 students.
After successfully organizing the conference, Youth United for Darfur participants decided that Chicago youth should organize a large-scale rally in a display of solidarity against genocide. In January of 2009, our group of 10 high schools quickly mobilized and began reaching out to high schools, colleges, youth groups, popular musicians, and influential political figures. In just weeks, we became a coalition of over 40 student groups, all of whom were excited to both plan and participate in the Youth United for Darfur Rally. We also reached out to national organizations for help and support – official sponsors now include the Save Darfur Coalition, the Enough Project, STAND, Amnesty International, American Jewish World Service, Darfur Dream Team, and the Sudanese Community Association of Illinois.
Through the hard work of so many Chicago students, Youth United for Darfur has spread the word to thousands of Chicago citizens and created an event that cannot be ignored by our legislators. Leading up to the rally, many participating groups have held a ‘Darfur Week’ at their schools and completed various fundraising activities. The Chicago Bulls NBA franchise donated $2,000 worth of tickets to Bulls’ games to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the rally’s beneficiaries.
The Youth United for Darfur Rally has several goals: First, student groups involved aim to collectively raise $15,000 to support the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program, a new program to support the education of Darfuri refugee students, and the Sudanese Community Center in Illinois. In addition, the rally aims to unite thousands of Chicago activists, especially youth, against the genocide and to show President Obama that Chicago demands swift and sustained action to promote peace in Darfur. As youth in president Obama’s home city, we believe that our voices can be especially powerful in shaping U.S. foreign policy in Sudan.
The rally will take place tomorrow, April 19th at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago at 1pm. Participants will hear speeches by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and State Representative Andre Thapedi and musical performances by Company of Thieves and the Hood Internet. The full list of speakers and musicians can be found at YouthUnitedforDarfur.org.
Within school walls and beyond, student activists have effectively voiced their concern for the ongoing atrocities in Dafur and advocated for swift action from legislators, including the Obama administration. It is through the efforts of local citizens, especially youth, that the international community can slowly move Sudan towards long-lasting peace and stability. And, if we are to ever truly make ‘Never Again’ a reality, then we must all be upstanders for humanity by acting NOW against ongoing genocide in Darfur.
Ethan Barhydt is a high school senior from Chicago and the leader of Youth United for Darfur.