The Nonstandard Project: Breaking Standards in Youth Activism

With over 100 BIPOC youth spanning nine countries and 10 U.S. states, youth collective The Nonstandard Project unites teen activists through pan-racial solidarity and community care.


The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.


As a grassroots organizer in middle school, Nicole Kim noticed there was a stigma around cross culture support. Whether she was the only Korean at a Chinese American organization or the only Asian working alongside a Latinx community, her involvement felt like a surprise for those she was serving.

She remembered this experience well into high school. After witnessing the unity activist collectives BUFU and Yellow Jackets Collective fostered between Asian American and Black teens at a city-wide conference in 2019, Kim and her friend Frances Leung joined forces to create The Nonstandard Project. With over 100 BIPOC youth spanning nine countries and 10 U.S. states, the youth collective unites teen activists through pan-racial solidarity and community care.

The Nonstandard Project: Breaking Standards in Youth Activism
Frances Leung (left) and Nicole Kim. (Courtesy)

Kim and Leung, both Hunter College High School students, consider this approach a form of activism on its own. They realized “how reactionary solidarity was, where solidarity was never the default,” Kim said.

That pairs with their focus on community care. “Half of our mission is to provide communities of consistent support and recharge,” Leung said, who finds  “a lot of power in that last word ‘recharge.’”

To provide these needed services, The Nonstandard Project hosts affinity spaces over Zoom called UnderSTANDing, where anywhere from 20-40 BIPOC youth discuss issues relevant to their lives—anything from the 2020 election to mental health. Kim and Leung use guiding questions through a lens of pop culture to get discussion flowing and create a community of support.


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Affinity spaces like these provide opportunities for learning through close-knit discourse, according to 2018 research by James Paul Gee.

And that’s exactly The Nonstandard Project’s goal: to give teen activists a space to unload. “It’s very cathartic in a sense, to let everything out to people who are open to hearing your ideas,” said member Melissa Ching, a senior at Midwood High School in Brooklyn. As a growing political activist, Ching learned how to dig deeper for personal testimonies about global issues from teens.

The Nonstandard Project: Breaking Standards in Youth Activism
The Nonstandard Project hosts affinity spaces over Zoom called UnderSTANDing, where 15 to 20 BIPOC youth discuss issues relevant to their lives—anything from the 2020 election to mental health.

Youth activists often feel dejected from not being able to reach their idealistic goals or from working in environments downplaying the role of self-care, according to AL Liou, a PhD student at Teachers College in Columbia University. In their paper for the International Journal of Communication, they found youth activists feel misunderstood across certain levels.

“Burnout is so prevalent because oftentimes, hustle culture, capitalist mindset so much we bring it into our social movement spaces,” they told Ms. “And then we think, like we have to, like, do more to be a valid activist.”

With her leadership experience as co-head of the Women of Color Club at The Dalton School in New York City, teen Zerimar Ramirez took initiative to become The Nonstandard Project’s programming director.

She said the monthly spaces for games and fundraisers provide a social outlet that prevents burnout, remembering a school supplies drive for low income families. “Although it was small, I saw firsthand the benefit of investing back into your community,” Ramirez said.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Feb. 19 to correct for reporting errors.


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About

Raitah Jinnat is a staff reporter and copy editor of The Science Survey, the student newspaper of the Bronx High School of Science in New York City. She is a co-founder of the school’s Anti-Racist Coalition.