The People Who Inspire Series: Kayla Mason
The People Who Inspire series highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.
Today’s Post features Kayla Mason, Social Worker, Change Agent and Community Organizer.
Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work?
Community organizing is not my “profession”. I remember at fourteen years old, my teacher explaining to the class that in South Central Los Angeles, 70% of us would drop out of high school because that was simply the norm. I thought, “whose norm? I mean yes, a norm is a standard for a group, but a norm can also be what is desired of the group from society. With individuals in power limiting opportunities for youth in our community, how does one expect students to excel when systemic structures enforce this norm?”
Apparently it wasn’t a thought, but an outburst filled with frustration and anger because of the casual manner adults discussed this gruesome statistic. But instead of kicking me out of the class, he laughed and suggested I go to the Los Angeles Community Coalition to be a part of South Central Youth Empowered through Action (SCYEA), a youth organization that advocates for change in their community. That afternoon, I went to my first SCYEA meeting and for the next three years of high school advocated for solutions to my frustrations. Community organizing was the platform to develop my voice and I haven’t stopped talking since.
My background since SCYEA has included 10 years of organizing in different capacities. At SCYEA I worked on a campaign that ensured college access to thousands of students in Los Angeles, in college I was a student organizer for the California Faculty Association and helped restore millions back into the CSU system, as an AmeriCorps Public Ally of Los Angeles, I was a community organizer for Community Development Technologies Center and created a youth group SPEAK UP to give Black and Brown young people a space to learn about policy and how to make systemic change, and most recently, I moved to Michigan to receive my Master of Social Work degree at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor while working as an organizer for the Harriet Tubman Center in Detroit.
In this brief video, Kayla speaks on some of her experiences with organizing before attending college, and how those experiences have impacted her current work and her desire to become a Social Worker.
Currently at Tubman Center, I work with a student-led organization called Youth Voice that is very similar to SCYEA and a parent-led organization called Our Kids Come First, groups that successfully work with political officials to implement changes in Detroit. I have helped students demand ACT preparation so they can apply to four-year universities, proposed policy to the mayor’s office for youth violence initiatives such as Ceasefire, where the mayor appointed our students on the steering committee, and assisted in efforts to demolish abandoned properties in Detroit. I enjoy organizing because it gives power to the people instead of one individual and empowers residents to not only improve their communities, but also improve their personal lives in the process.
Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?
My passion is youth development, specifically college access for students of color. I think life can be a dissatisfying experience without a higher education and unfortunately sometimes discussions about its importance can rarely happen in disadvantaged communities. But when it comes to social justice, my interest is people. Some of my experiences include working on the Dream Act for undocumented students, improving health disparities with Community Health Partnerships, and protesting with those affected by governmental firing practices. I would love to be a part of future efforts that improve the quality of life regardless of race, age, gender, class, sexual preference, citizenship, or religion.
What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?
Being able to say my job is talking to people! I think about those in corporate America that sit in cubicles or offices with little to no communication with others. It seems depressing. Every day, I’m meeting with city people, meeting with staff from organizations interested in youth, going to high schools and working with youth on issues they care about, taking their voice to school administrators, and working with the local community to get those changes made. I’m the liaison that connects the conversation from the politician, principal, parent, youth, and the director or service provider. Sometimes, I get them all in the room and facilitate how a working relationship can be established. That is my job. Wouldn’t you love it?
What aspects do you find challenging?
The most challenging aspect of organizing is taking the working relationship home. I learn so much about the student’s lives and they share so much with me that it’s challenging to make professional decisions. For example, a student I worked with was homeless and one day called me at three in the morning. Yes, it was an inappropriate time, but knowing about their struggles and life experiences told me something was wrong. That night, I drove an hour to pick them up and while I later learned from my supervisor that was the wrong decision, I knew if it happened again, I would do it again. Even if that is my downfall one day, I will be able to look at myself and say I did everything humanly possible to help that individual which is my definition of a social worker.
What/Who Inspires you? What have been the Keys to your success so far?
Inspiration is a complex idea. I believe my purpose is far greater than I can envision so for me to assume my motivation comes from something/someone is to take credit away from my Creator. I believe that means I’m motivated through my spirituality, which is my key to success. I know I have a job to fulfill before leaving this Earth so I make it a goal to stay humble and giving, in the journey of achievements.
Are there any special projects you’re working on currently?
I’m currently working with high school students a part of Youth Voice at Central High School in Detroit to bring in a new food company for their school cafeteria next year! If they are successful with having healthy food choices, it can be a pilot for other Detroit students to have control over their food intake. In the city, I was also selected to be a part of the advisory board for Shetroit, an organization that helps create an enriching space for women of Detroit to weave community. I hope to make an impact with the organization through my knowledge and background experiences working with different communities.
Is there anything Else you’d like to add?
We spend a lot of time planning and exchanging ideas, but not enough doing. Sometimes its better to step out in the world and see what you can do with what you have. I used to let my age, lack of education, and background hold me back from believing I have valuable assets that can contribute to a larger effort. Today, I think less and do more.
If you know any People Who Inspire that you would like to be featured in the series, fill out the contact form here.
Grace & Peace,
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW