For Jerome Foster II, activism is more than making signs and marching. It’s a vocation that can imbue every aspect of your life, whether you’re a coder or an artist or a high school student.
The 19-year-old graduate of Washington Leadership Academy—an XQ school in Washington, D.C.—has devoted his life to fighting for change and inspires other young people to take action about issues that matter to them in their communities and beyond. To hear more about his life, his journey, and how his education at WLA prepared him to lead a generation to create positive social change—we tapped Alexis Rodriguez, a student at Summit Shasta, to talk to Jerome about how students can follow in his footsteps. The interview was streamed to XQ’s instagram and broadcast to help students across America learn how to advocate for social change.
WLA students see the future and learn how to build it. The school is designed around preparing students to thrive in the world and empowering them to change it for the better. Like other XQ Schools, Washington Leadership Academy merges rigorous academics with real-world experiences, giving students the skills and knowledge to navigate a complex and rapidly-changing world. The school emphasizes building leaders and offers students the tools to take their big ideas and transform them into actionable goals. With a focus on internships and a clear goal of helping disenfranchised youth become leaders in tomorrow’s world, WLA offers an educational experience that allows students to trust themselves and their abilities to build a new world.
“Waiting for politicians to do something while we’re feeling unsafe in our classrooms and unsafe in our communities—that’s not what it’s about,” Foster, who was recently interviewed on XQ Live.
“It’s about rising up,” he said. “We have to peel back the onion and do something. Call a member of Congress. Organize. Talk to people. We need to take action.”
While at WLA, Foster founded One Million of Us, a youth-led nonprofit that encourages young people to educate themselves about issues like climate change, social justice and gun control; register and turn out to vote; and organize events in their communities. With chapters throughout the country, One Million of Us aims to mobilize a million young people to become engaged in the political process to create lasting, meaningful change.
Becoming a learner and leader for life
Foster credits his high school teachers, and the XQ approach to education, with inspiring his career in activism and giving him the skills to succeed. WLA is a technology-focused school that provides computer science classes to all students all four years, but also has a strong foundation in social justice and hands-on learning. That combination of practical skills and the ability to tackle broad ideas resonated with Foster.
“Learning about coding, for example, really opened my eyes. It showed me how activist roles do not have to look the same. Not everyone has to be organizing and marching. Someone can be at the megaphone, but another person can be making the web site, or working behind the scenes with the technology,” he said.
XQ Schools like Washington Leadership Academy, give students the skills and confidence to go into the world and advocate for change, he said.
“I think that’s what the XQ education is all about—empowering us to go out and make the changes that we want to see,” he said. “It’s about empowering my generation to be adventurous and try new things. And take action.”
In addition to running One Million of Us, Foster serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, making him the youngest member of the Biden administration. Prior to that, he served as an intern for the late civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). He served as co-editor-in-chief of The Climate Reporter, an environmental news organization, spoke at the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, and was interviewed by former Vice President Al Gore at the Climate Reality Project’s leadership training in 2019.
But he’s also engaged in on-the-ground, grassroots activism. For more than a year, he staged weekly climate strikes at the White House and Harvard University as part of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for the Future campaign to bring attention to the climate crisis. Foster also founded a virtual reality tech company called Tau VR that’s focused on civic engagement.
Inspiring one million young people
Foster works long days and juggles countless responsibilities, but he feels a sense of urgency, particularly regarding the changing climate. Young people, he said, no longer want to wait for politicians to take action.
“Young people have been the face of movements for so long. We’ve been the face of change in the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement… And now our generation is coming of age and saying clean air and clean water, these are rights,” he said.
“And we have to lead the way because adults are not taking into account that the worst impacts of climate change are going to happen in our lifetimes,” he said. “We’re going to be the ones that press the envelope and say to politicians, you can’t just sit here. You have to take substantive action.”
XQ knows that high school transformation is necessary and possible. We also believe deeply in the power of young people to build and advocate for better futures—especially when they are given the tools and opportunities to grow into leaders and lifelong learners. To learn more about how to bring high school transformation to your community, be sure to: