For many of us, the events of 2020 are still a fresh memory – the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the police brutalities against Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Indeed, 2020 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. A study by the economic policy institute estimates that black youth are ten times more likely to live in a poor neighborhood when compared with white peers. The hardships and injustices witnessed by hundreds of millions of Americans last year were a symptom and not the cause. A select few teenagers refused to stand idly by in the face of a new sort of segregation caused by racism and inequalities in wealth. These teens became the change they wished to see by founding a non-profit organization, Teens Who Care.
Vishnu Sreenivasan and Jonah Malinger, two high school juniors at Westwood High School, registered a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization when they were still freshmen in May 2020. Teens Who Care focuses on effecting systematic change to racial discrimination in America at the most fundamental level: the American public school system.
Bringing the change we need to see
In 2016, EdBuild, a research organization that studies and promotes equity within the American public school system, reported that the borders of many American public school districts were drawn based on educational segregation. EdBuild also found that school districts in predominantly white areas received $23 billion more in funding than their counterparts serving districts comprised mostly of students of color. EdBuild’s findings in the report highlighted that more than half of U.S. public school students attend “racially concentrated” schools or districts. In summary, the report found that nonwhite school districts, on average, receive nearly $2,300 less funding per student than their predominantly white counterparts.
“The mission of Teens Who Care is simple,” says Sreenivasan, the organization’s co-founder & President, “we want teens to help end the injustices faced and endured by millions of African-Americans in the U.S. each day. By understanding what racial injustice is and how it impacts people in marginalized communities, teens can help educate others on not only what it is, but how they can help fight it alongside us and millions of others.”
To help close this educational gap, Sreenivasan, Malinger, rallied teens across the state of Texas to raise funds for predominantly African-American and nonwhite school districts that required necessary school supplies. They also raised awareness of discriminatory practices within the U.S. public education system using social media platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram.
Bridging the historical gap of educational injustice
As Americans, it can be easy to forget that the days of residential and educational segregation only ended less than 60 years ago and that nonwhite students in segregated school districts received funding at exponentially lower rates. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, following the end of formally legal segregation in the U.S., test scores between minority students and their white peers narrowed substantially between the 1970s and 1990s. During this same period, SAT scores for African-American students rose by 54 points on average, while those of white students remained relatively the same.
Despite this nationwide increase in educational metrics, nonwhite racially concentrated public schools and school districts have been subject to far less funding for decades.
“After witnessing multiple events of racial discrimination and injustice throughout the U.S. and conducting research on a lack of equity within our public education system,” says Sreenivasan, “we realized that schools and districts comprised mostly of African-American students received amounts of funding significantly lower than their predominantly white counterparts. My co-founder, Jonah, and I soon realized that the best way we could fight this inequality and support Black Lives simultaneously was to fight back against it.”
Putting their money where their cause is
Under Sreenivasan and Malinger’s guiding principles and mission, “Teens Who Care” raised funds to donate vital school supplies to over 150 students at Jefferson County Upper Elementary School – a predominantly African-American public school in Mississippi. In November 2021, Sreenivasan and Malinger received the President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award and a letter signed by President Biden for their extraordinary commitment to service.
How you can help Teens Who Care
Currently, Teens Who Care is taking nominations for underfunded public schools across the United States. The organization is also looking for sponsorships and partnerships with businesses to bridge the racial equity gap in America’s public School system. Donations can be made directly via PayPal.
To learn more about Teens Who Care, their mission, or their management team consisting entirely of teenage volunteers, visit teenagerswhocare.org today.