Mykel Duffey is certain that he would be failing many of his high school classes and spending most of his time at home couch surfing had it not been for Children’s Defense Fund – California. Instead, he has done things that he never imagined and has hopes of becoming a child psychologist.
“It (CDF-CA) has really changed my life,” the 16-year-old junior from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in Long Beach.
Mykel was first exposed to Children’s Defense Fund – California (CDF-CA) through Freedom Schools® when he was 15. He initially thought it was going to be like other summer programs with sports and arts activities to keep students busy all day but he quickly discovered that CDF Freedom Schools® was different.
“I had never really learned about my culture and how I could make a better community. That is why the program stood out,” Mykel said. “It was something I really needed to hear.”
Following that summer, a CDF-CA youth organizer encouraged Mykel to travel to Sacramento with other youth to talk to legislators about two bills – Assembly Bill 549 and Assembly bill 420. AB 549 limited the role of police in schools and AB 420 eliminated suspensions and expulsions for minor misbehavior. Both eventually passed and were signed into law by the governor.
Mykel said he was never the type of student who would participate in class or initiate discussions with teachers or administrators. So when he was asked to go to Sacramento to talk to people who make laws, he was reluctant.
“I didn’t think people would listen to me; they were people with a lot of power and stuff,” he said.
Mykel was surprised to learn that the legislators were receptive and really valued the opinions of the students. It was a life-changing experience for him.
He returned to Poly High School feeling “cocky” and told everybody about his trip. The once low-achieving, unenthusiastic Mykel was now motivated and wanted to do more. The Sacramento trip allowed him to learn from other youth how students, just like him, were being criminalized at schools. He remembered all those times when he, his friends or classmates would get in trouble at school and how unfair he thought it was. He now understood it was part of a larger problem.
Mykel has stayed active in CDF-CA. He is a part of the organization’s Action Scholars Leadership Program which teaches participants skills and strategies to advocate for themselves and their communities through nonviolent direct action. He has also been called on to be a student speaker at youth organizing events aimed at building supporting schools in Long Beach Unified and improving the lives of those affected by injustice.
Mykel’s activism has gotten him attention and respect of students and administrators. It even earned him a seat on Long Beach School District’s advisory committee. The committee discusses and advises the district’s superintendent on topics related to the budget and student needs.
“If I never would have joined CDF, I would have never joined the advisory committee for the school district because I never would have cared,” he said.
Mykel credits his involvement with CDF-CA with helping him get a job at Long Beach Advocates for Change where he is a youth worker.
Looking back at the person he was just three years ago, Mykel is amazed at how much he has grown. And, he said, it all started on Oct. 8, 2013 – the day he went to Sacramento.
“That’s when I realized that I can make a difference and that what I say really matters,” Mykel recalled. “It is empowering.”