Community organizing is both an endeared and often forgotten skill that sits at the cornerstone of building power in communities of color, so for Kuijuan “Big Woogie” Jackson, 23, of Communities United (CU) being a Community Organizer was an easy choice. Kuijuan came to Communities United in 2018 through Baltimore’s summer youth employment program, Youth Works, and has been an active Youth Organizer and leader since.
Growing up on Baltimore’s east side, inequity, and all of its accompanying experiences were commonplace for Kuijuan. He had been an unwilling witness to the effects of oppressive systems his entire life, but he never thought he could do anything to improve the conditions of his community.
In the summer of 2018, Kuijaun rode public transportation to Communities United’s headquarters on a sweltering Monday that reached nearly 90 degrees. He had one thing in mind– to work six weeks, and never look back, “It was my last year of High School and I needed some money. I didn’t know what the job entailed, I just needed money” Kuijuan recounted, We were in a conference room full of people and no one was talking, so me and two other people stepped up.” a defining moment for Kuijaun. He had no Idea he was opening up to a group that he would one day lead, The CU Youth Organizing Leadership Academy (YOLA). Kuijaun continued, “Steve came in, he was one of those mentors who was so passionate, and he was doing good for himself, when I actually started doing the work I fell in love, and I didn’t care what I had to do, I was going to be in that position.” He was speaking of Steven Merrick, CU’s former youth organizer who led YOLA for three years, training nearly 80 Baltimore youth in the art of advocacy and community organizing. Steven is now a Union Organizer in Los Angeles, California.
Kuijuan had never been exposed to the sight of everyday Black folk pushing back against systems of oppression, a realization that encouraged him to stick around when YouthWorks 2018 had ceased its operations.
A New program at the time, YOLA’s future hung in the balance when YouthWorks ended, that is until an email came to the Executive Director informing her that the RFP submitted for funding from the Baltimore Children & Youth Fund had been accepted and approved. Kuijuan was brought on to support Steven Merrick and train the next generation of youth organizers. Since then, Kuijuan has co-led an action against Maryland’s millionaires advocating to close corporate tax loopholes that allows the richest Marylanders to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, he has testified in Annapolis in favor of key legislation and against policies that would be harmful to working class communities. He has been a speaker at national rallies and has represented Baltimore at events in Detroit, Michigan and the District of Columbia.
“YOLA was created because we found a gap in the ages of community advocates we were working with on the ground,” explains CU Organizing Director, Shaquille Carbon. Shaquille came to Communities United from Community Law in Action and at 27 years old, he is the youngest Organizing Director in the Center for Popular Democracy’s national network. “We needed to ensure that the elders had trained leaders prepared to step into the role of community advocates and Kuijuan is a very important piece to that.”
Kuijuan continues to be a leader and mentor to as many young people as CU can maintain, Kuijuan made clear, “I just can’t get this out of me, being able to speak, mentor, and fight for Black people is now my life’s purpose.”