Youth Leadership Support Network

DC Archives

Davis-Calvin Youth Activism Archives (DC YAA!)

A project of Youth Leadership Support Network 

Special 2008 focus on DC Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism (DC SCAR, 1983 -- 1998)

Top links to sister projects:

98-year old photographer Milton Rogovin’s family are digitizing his photos, providing curriculum and more at

African Activist Archive Project (NYC),

Civil Rights Movement Veterans

Digital Innovation South Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal


Introduction to DC YAA!

Davis-Calvin Archives on Youth Activism (DC YAA!) is a project of Youth Leadership Support Network (YLSN), a violence prevention arts media and education network serving DC area youth and communities. Named after two leading student and youth organizers of the 1980s and 90s, the late Ray Davis and YLSN Founder Douglas Calvin, the archives began with their personal collections and continues to grow through contributions of movement veterans and youth-media projects in Washington DC, nationally and internationally.  

DC YAA! primary documents include meeting and training summaries, internal notes, and manuals as well as articles, photos, posters, videos, audio recordings and publications. They extensively document student and youth activism from the early 1980’s to the present nationally as well as the DC Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism (1983 – 1998), Paul Robeson and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They serve as a resource for youth organizers, trainers, educators and researchers.  

YLSN actively fosters communications, collaborations and exchange with sister programs locally, nationally and internationally, thus creating an ongoing source of contribution to the archives for future generations. YLSN promotes collaborations among youth media programs, including sharing materials and becoming news sources for Network participants.  YLSN programs including Stop Hate, Inspire Neighborly Engagement (SHINE), Worldyouth Media, DC Youth Media Collaborative and Promote the Peace…Participate Arts and Music provide ongoing contributions to the archive. At the same time YLSN draws on the archives to modulate its programs and place them in the historical context. DC YAA! is both the roots and branches of YLSN. 


An instrumental component in creating analysis of the present and visions for the future is a solid understanding of the past - creating an understanding among young people involved in social change is an ongoing process through the passage of time.  Critically relevant experiences of intercultural cooperation, youth movement building and international solidarity efforts are generally taught as isolated events, as one individual's efforts, or ignored altogether.  A great wealth of historical knowledge is virtually unknown to young activists - yet is readily available from their grandparents, uncles, aunts, older siblings, a day trip to the library or a senior citizens home. DCYAA encourages intergenerational links between past and present history-makers.  

As a new century unfolds,  those who participated in the early and mid-century youth, human and civil rights movements and lived through the formative decades of the early 1900s are now elderly.  An astounding amount of social change occurred in those years - movements and events that greatly influenced and shaped the rest of this century.  The many experiences and lessons from those decades are particularly important to impart to the young inheritors of a new century. For more recent youth activists, their stories of the past two decades are most relevant to today’s generation and yet probably the least known. The DC YAA! seeks to preserve the experiences of young organizers today and, in twenty years these history-makers will be accessible to the next generation, who in turn will continue to add to DC YAA! with their contributions and experiences. 

DC YAA! Purposes:

Linking 20th and 21st century of learning about youth engagement in society

Continuing into the future: nourishing root systems with context and content

Focussing on contemporary phenomena as recent decades incorporate into academic curriculum and cultural awareness

Providing resources for youth programs, community-based organizations, museum, labor and academic communities.

Providing income and input for ongoing programs of historical awareness and education 

As a living resource, DC YAA! prioritizes:

1. Using historical documents to supplement youth leadership development including the development of archives as readily accessible resources to wider audiences,

2. Providing intergenerational interaction and mentoring,

3. Supporting and teaching archival methodologies to youth activists today. 

The main components are:




Paul Robeson Voice of the People Curriculum for Grades 4 – 12

Teaching resources and community service-learning programs for grades 4-12. 
The curriculum introduces students (of all ages) to the legacy of Paul Robeson, placing emphasis on his role as an artist, organizational leader, and coalition-builder in civil rights, peace and intercultural unity in the first half of this century. Teaching materials relate directly to students lives and their communities. YLSN sponsors annual Paul Robeson birthday celebrations every April.


Workshops and Intergenerational Trainings & Performance

SHINE workshops on hate groups and hate crimes regionally, nationally and internationally including historical and multi-media resources and presentations

Diversity, Leadership, Grassroots Organizing Trainings and Materials

DC Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism (DC SCAR) 1983 -- 1998

Alternative student/youth press from the 1980s to today 
Paul Robeson presentations and displays

Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Poster Displays

Photos and Videos

Contemporary Youth Media as History-makers 

Also included:

DC SCAR and Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) student organizing in-depth records from the 1980s


Central America

Indigenous People’s



Alternative News and Journals

Major Mobilizations in Washington, DC

Christian base communities/liberation theology 

DC YAA! examples in action:

“The student/youth movement now is very scattered.  The reason for this is that more and more people are joining movements but don’t know the history of how and why these movement exists.  DC YAA! provides a context to organizing and community work in the present.  It seems youth and student movements are constantly ‘reinventing the wheel’.  By utilizing the archives, people can move forward. DCYAA! acts as an intergenerational bridge so that we not only read about history but meet the people we’re reading about. It’s not just about reading this book or that article, but rather internalize it by meeting the authors and then applying what we have learned. DC YAA! is an amazing resource that places our work today in a historical context and increases resources for future generations. I’ve not only met people I’ve learned about but realize my work today is preserving and creating history.” -- YLSN Youth Organizer Sheila Mirza 

The YLSN-produced Paul Robeson: Voice of the People Curriculum has been used in DC classrooms in conjunction with a Robeson Exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and annual Paul Robeson celebrations in DC public schools. The curriculum has also been used among union members, community-based organizations and was used as an exemplary educational tool for teachers at Teachers College in NYC. 

U.S. Postal Service National Capital Region Office of Diversity Affairs hosted YLSN Director Douglas Calvin at all three major postal handling plants in the region (Landover, Southern Maryland and Brentwood) as part of Black History celebrations and the release of a Paul Robeson stamp. Workers at Landover contributed original collages about Paul Robeson to the archives.  

YLSN hosted the 2004 National Educational Association Peace and Justice Caucus pre-conference, “Education Not Incarceration” where DC youth joined educators in creating proposals for the main convention that included an address by Angela Davis. DCYAA! materials were on exhibit during the pre-conference.  

In 2001 and 2003 YLSN sponsored Intergenerational Youth Activism Summits bringing together veterans from 40 years of youth movements with particular focus on Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and DC Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism (DC SCAR).  

In 2005 a DCYAA! display was part of a program at Howard University about SNCC which featured Howard Alumni who participated in SNCC.  

YLSN sponsored the “Visiting Author Series” including John Ross, Gerry Nicosia, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Elizabeth Martinez, Pedro Perez Sarduy 

YLSN coordinates annual DC youth participation in the Great Labor Arts Exchange, a program bringing together cultural workers from the Labor Movement nation-wide for three days every June. GLAE provides an introduction to Labor History and Culture and features mentors from diverse experiences. Julius Margolin, in particular, an 89 year old singer-songwriter and union activist since 1934 has been a regular highlight for young organizers.  

YLSN Mentors have conducted hundreds of workshops on topical history for DC area youth and youth delegations visiting Washington, DC.  

DC YAA! exhibits were presented at Bowdoin College in 2004 and in New Orleans in 2005 as part of a national student conference entitled “Replenishing Democracy through Student Organizing.” 

DC YAA! materials addressing hate crimes and hate groups have been used extensively in the region for high school and university classrooms, community-based organizations, academic and media researchers seeking information about hate crimes locally, nationally and internationally.  

As part of a 2005 GMU briefing for visiting Russian officials, DCYAA! articles on hate groups in Russia were provided to Multi-Cultural Research and Resource Center and University Life participants, creating ongoing resources about hate crimes in Russia for the GMU community. 

DC YAA! materials are a regular source of information, articles, knowledge and networks for YLSN participants.

Since 1999, YLSN has digitally recorded and photographed hundreds of youth events, including performances, demonstrations, rallies, teach-ins, conferences and dialogues in Washington DC. They have been featured on local, national and international AM, FM and Webstream Radio stations and websites.  

YLSN and Latin America Youth Center Art & Media House launched DC Youth Media Collaboration in January 2005 involving several dozen DC youth programs. Resource-sharing and documentation/media projects from participants contribute to the archives. 

The following is a column about Paul Robeson, (including the YLSN curriculum) written by the Honorable Elijah E., Cummings, representing the 7th Congressional District of Maryland in the United States House of Representatives — 9/26/98 Baltimore AFRO-American Newspaper.


To Hold Their Destiny in Their Own Hands 
by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings

In this era of declining political activism, it is difficult to fully appreciate the social impact of one committed person. Each of us will find it worthwhile to make that effort.

Recently, at the invitation of Ms. Camay Murphy, I attended a tribute celebrating the centennial of Paul Robeson’s birth. Although he became famous, Paul Robeson never forgot the conditions of his birth. He drew upon that experience, and the pain of his ancestors, to empower and liberate himself.

During the tribute’s moving program, we recalled the Phi Beta Kappa, two-time All-American football star, lawyer, world-class singer and actor. We also recalled the fighter for human rights, sympathizer of revolutionary ideals, working class hero and, for many years, American un-person.

Motivated by his belief that Russian egalitarian ideals offered promise for African Americans, Paul Robeson opposed President Truman’s post-WWII anticommunism. As a consequence, our government crippled Paul Robeson’s career as a concert artist. Paul Robeson was prevented by government influence from renting most American concert halls. His passport was canceled, and he was placed under "house arrest," preventing him from working abroad.

Although Paul Robeson’s "pro-Russia" positions remain controversial, we should recall that his "crimes" were unpopular ideas, not active disloyalty to our country. We also should remember that Paul Robeson responded to censorship by singing in our churches and anywhere else working people could gather and hear the uplifting sound of his voice.

During the Baltimore celebration, I was recalling these aspects of Paul Robeson’s life as I considered how we can pay tribute to the man whom reactionaries, without success, tried to read out of history.

Many Americans were disappointed, for example, when the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee rejected the more than 90,000 signatures on a Paul Robeson centennial stamp petition. Despite that disappointment, I know that Paul Robeson's legacy lives on — stamped on our hearts and in our minds.

The presence of African-Americans in the United States Congress is part of Paul Robeson's legacy. In a very real sense, we pay tribute to the legacy of Paul Robeson by our very existence in the public and cultural life of this, our country.

More important is the opportunity each of us have to be a positive presence in our local communities. Each of us can pay tribute to Paul Robeson's legacy.

We should listen to Douglas Calvin's advice that we encourage our children to be like Paul Robeson, helping them realize that their culture and their liberation cannot be separated. By so doing, we will encourage our young Paul Robesons to become more than bystanders of history.

Paul Robeson's life also exemplifies this teaching of his Quaker mother: each of us has the opportunity to ask God for the gift of disturbance. Each of us has the capability to open our eyes to the death, addiction and despair which surrounds us.

As my good friend, Rev. Michael Curry, has taught us, we must not be afraid to "trouble the waters." Like Paul Robeson, each of us has the power to speak out about those things which need to be said. Deep within ourselves, each of us can find the courage to take constructive action.

I know that many people reading this column are hard at work with our young people, teaching them their heritage of freedom. To each and every one of you, I want to say. "Thank you for living up to the legacy of Paul Robeson in your daily lives."

We must continue to work together to demonstrate, to our children and to each other, Paul Robeson's understanding of fundamental human rights. It is our birthright, and our responsibility, to live the dream his songs proclaimed for all human beings threatened by poverty or terror: To be free; to walk the good American earth as equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil, to give our children every opportunity in life; that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny that we hold in our hands.

If we have the courage and wisdom to accept Paul Robeson's legacy, our children shall hold their destiny in their own hands.

-The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings represents the 7th Congressional District of Maryland in the United States House of Representatives. 


About Davis and Calvin

Ray Davis was the Executive Director of the Washington DC Student Coalition Against Racism (formerly the DC Student Coalition against Apartheid and Racism) from 1985 to the time of his murder in 1999 at the age of 35. He was a small businessman, an entrepreneur, anthropologist and community organizer. He worked as a lab anthropologist on the New York African Burial Ground Project at Howard University. He was a Masters Candidate at Howard University and was a student leader at Oberlin College, where he received his B.A. While in college, he was a research coordinator on the college-level textbook, Eyes on the Prize: American Civil Rights History Project. He was a featured speaker at countless universities, schools, community forums and public protests. 

Ray Davis was exceptionally talented and dedicated to attacking injustice through principled multi-racial and multi-ethnic coalition building, educating youth and motivating peers and mentors alike with his smooth voice, quick smile and unwaverable optimism.  He was a leader in the student movement in the 1980s and a talented mentor and motivator of youth in the 1990s.  

Ray Davis will and should be remembered by all who value Freedom’s Struggle around the world. He challenged us to deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world, strengthened our convictions, and in doing so, made us more aware of our humanity. 

Douglas Calvin states, “As a student organizer working nationally to build chapters and coalitions to address academic freedom and U.S. policy in El Salvador throughout the 1980s, I was a witness and architect of a broad-based student and youth  movement that few young people today know even existed. By the early 1990s, I was introducing apartheid into vocabulary workshops with students who overwhelmingly had no idea what had just ended in South Africa, let alone what had occurred on U.S. campuses about that or any other issue of the day. I literally became a link between generations almost overnight. From my own experiences, gained a deep realization of how quickly history is central to one’s understanding of self and how easily certain histories can disappear almost entirely and very quickly. It is the equivilent of cultural amnesia, a missing part of who we actually are.  

The word activism among youth too often invokes images only of the late 1960s or the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. They have little understanding of the connections between the two and everything else that defined activism throughout the 20th Century. But like the enduring songs of Woody Guthrie, the tenacity of people who worked in SNCC and continue their contributions to humanity in a huge variety of ways, and the resurgence of Paul Robeson as a recognized, if still under-studied, great American serve as reference points to an entire century of arts-activism and a diaspora of political activism, history surrounds our daily lives. DC YAA not only preserves the past as living history, with continuous influence on our present, but it documents the present for future generations. ” – Douglas Calvin, YLSN Founding Director 

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