The National Conference for Community and Justice is proud to introduce our two new staff members to our social justice education family, Michael Vidal and Orion Howard. Vidal joins us as NCCJ’s new programs educator and Howard has come aboard as our new youth intern.
Growing up, Vidal believed that we’re all responsible for each other in some capacity. His welcoming smile and warm body language show the earnestness of that concern.
“I think my question always was: ‘How do we do that?’,” said Vidal. “How do we become responsible for each other? How do we care for each other beyond just saying that we do? How do we really show it in various capacities? These were the big questions that I had without really knowing the answers to them, or even knowing the approach to finding those answers.”
Vidal came to NCCJ in September of this year, acting as a social justice educator that specializes in group dialogues and connections across differences, specifically around race, ethnicity and gender, for NCCJ’s various in-school and overnight programs.
“When I was in college I got involved with the multicultural affairs office at the University of New Hampshire. They run a program similar to what we do here in terms of NCCJ ANYTOWN,” said Vidal.
The organization does a weekend summit over three days that encourages leadership amongst other learning moments that enforce a deeper understanding around social justice issues.
“It’s basically the Social Justice 101 for students,” said Vidal.
That experience brought him into the work, planting a seed in Vidal for creating change.
While he was already orientated towards the work, he didn’t have the language nor framework to make meaningful impact, but the momentum continued. Soon that seed grew into a deep passion for social justice issues. This meant readjusting his course schedule as a college student, as well as realigning his personal interests to intersect with his professional goal of aiding in the fight for social equity.
“I think that experience was the jumping point for me to be able to do that,” said Vidal.
After four years of working in social justice at the graduate level, Vidal decided to continue his education, leading into a masters program, which brought him to UMASS Amherst where he entered their social justice education program.
“I knew what I cared about, but I knew if I wanted to do this work professionally, I needed to acquire a skill set to be able to do this work with other people professionally,” said Vidal.
He highlighted that reaching an adult community was important to him, saying that while many adult professionals may not have negative mindsets, they may have a limited understanding of social justice issues and how they impact everybody, not just a few.
After graduation, Vidal was invited by fellow UMASS alumni and NCCJ director of youth programs M’Liss DeWald to co-facilitate a two-day NCCJ Bridges program at a local high school.
“I loved it. It was a great experience. I think my connection with NCCJ really started to progress from that moment forward, and I kept coming into contact with little opportunities like that along the way,” said Vidal.
He believes that the best method of reaching people is allowing them to create a space with the help of their facilitators in which learning breakthroughs can occur. Now, his work with NCCJ is helping him do that through Connecticut and Western Massachusetts in schools, workplaces, and beyond as he makes meaningful impact in our communities.
“People do their own awakening and their own work. To be able to hold that for people while they also struggle through their own personal challenges is pretty powerful. They learn about other people, and leave feeling not only more connected with others, but also more connected with themselves,” said Vidal.
Howard heard about NCCJ through the action club at his school. The person who was running it at the time was the youth intern. Within the group, NCCJ ANYTOWN is “really famous,” with many students eagerly signing up.
“Everyone who was involved with action club wanted to go, so it was kind of a legacy thing,” said Howard.
After joining action club and gaining more context around social justice issues, Howard moved forward into signing up for NCCJ ANYTOWN, citing that the experience brought together his motivation and passion with education and methods for driving change.
“NCCJ ANYTOWN was one of the primary reasons that I was able to get myself together and figure out who I am. After NCCJ ANYTOWN, I felt like a completely new person. I felt like I had just built my own character,” said Howard.
Howard has had a passion for social justice since he was young, and recalls watching his family involve themselves in supporting equality through human rights initiatives. His eyes are open and bright, looking off as if he looking into the future.
“I grew up in a family that goes to protests and rallies,” said Howard. “So I guess its in my blood.”
He noted that it was a major paradigm shift to discover comfort in his own personality, something that NCCJ ANYTOWN allowed Howard to more easily express as it takes form and evolves, including his passion for social justice issues.
“NCCJ gave me a lot of content that I needed to move forward in social justice activism, because you can have the passion, you can have the dream, but if you don’t know anything, then you can’t do much,” said Howard.
Howard also cites that he gained a community from NCCJ ANYTOWN that’s “almost like a family.”
“The encouragement and support from everyone I got at NCCJ ANYTOWN was the final thing that it took to help me realize my leadership role,” said Howard. “I want to make what happened to me a reality for more people, for other people inspired to do this work by giving them the tools and support that they need to continue to inspire them to do this.”
NCCJ is excited to add these new assets to our mission, and welcome their talents in helping us create a more just and accepting world.
Article by Jason Papallo, NCCJ E-Communications and Marketing Specialist
For more information on NCCJ’s variety of social justice educational programs, click here.