Naomi Barnett (they/them) is a professional writer, editor, and project manager. They currently work at Spotify as the editor-in-chief of the company’s online publication, For the Record. They graduated from Binghamton University in 2016 with degrees in English and Marketing. After moving to NYC in 2017, Naomi got involved with various Jewish and social justice organizations. Naomi is interested in the intersections of communications, development, tech, and fundraising as tools for change. Naomi is also a marathoner and triathlete who now resides in Northampton, MA with their Avodah Service Corps alum partner and dog.
As the editor-in-chief of Spotify’s For the Record publication, Avodah alum Naomi Barnett didn’t have a traditional professional background in the justice field. However, equipped with a deep-rooted value of justice, the willingness to try something new, and skills acquired during their Avodah Justice Fellowship, Naomi built a program from scratch that teaches teenagers how to harness their own power and pursue their ideas to create change.
Judaism and social justice had been linked together for Naomi since they were young, most deeply stemming from their time at Jewish summer camp. “When I think about Jewish camp, I think about an understanding of my Jewish identity I would not have been able to access if I had not had that immersive experience. At camp, you choose how engaged you are in a way you can’t do in Hebrew school or at home with your parents. There were things we worked on at my camp that were more social justice focused, and those were the elements I was always excited by,” they said.
So, in 2020, when most summer camps shuttered for the pandemic, Naomi had an idea: a week-long summer Zoom program for teens.
They had just wrapped up their Avodah Justice Fellowship project, which coincided with a grassroots fundraising campaign with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. As a co-coordinator for grassroots fundraising during the organization’s Let My People Go campaign, Naomi leveraged their professional communications background along with their wealth privilege to raise money for bail and bond for immigrants in the tri-state area.
“The Avodah Justice Fellowship cemented my own theory of power in those methods of change. It was also a really good support system, especially as the pandemic got started – commiserating together as we went through the beginnings of the lockdown.”
Now equipped with a network of social justice professionals to lean on, along with the tools and hard skills to create change, Naomi began planning a virtual teen program focused on social justice and organizing with the assistance of fellow Let My People Go campaign leaders.
Through conversations with those in the field, including those in their Avodah cohort, they decided to extend their timeline for planning the program and turned it into a Zoom alternative winter break. Working with a few others, Naomi wrote lesson plans, secured funding, educators, and enrolled nine middle- and high-schoolers from around the country in the program.
“I totally fell in love with it. They learned a lot about each other and about themselves. They had all become little abolitionists. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Naomi said.
That was in December 2020. Six months later, Sarra Alpert, then Avodah’s Director of Social Change, reached out to Naomi to lead a similar program – this time, for over the span of several weeks and months in partnership with the JCC and Avodah.
Through the program, a group of 12 teens met once a week to learn about themselves and topics such as privilege, oppression, antisemitism, race, racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and how these events and issues play out, specifically in New York.
The teens then created their own projects, looking up an organization doing work on an issue that was important to them, researching the organization and how they’re tackling the problem, and then, creating something, such as a social media campaign, a podcast episode, a website, an op-ed, to inform others how to either support the cause.
The goal, Naomi explained, was for them to take what they learned and piece together all the different elements of identity to understand what their place in that might be to raise awareness, money, or to have an impact on the issue they care about.
“Teens are learning where their passions lie and what their power is. We help them put those two things together,” Naomi said. “It’s so impactful how dreaming of a better future and then working to bring that world into being can be. They’re not so jaded yet that they can still do the imaginative stuff. This group is so much more knowledgeable, engaged and involved than I was at that age – they have so many questions. They’re honing in on what they want to study, what they want to do full time with their lives, and now they already have some of these questions answered.”
The biggest takeaway from doing this, Naomi explained, is being willing to try something new and to harness your own power.
“You may not have a classical education in something, but you can learn from people who are smart and have experience. Pursue the idea you have – work to make it happen. That has changed so much of the way I’ve been thinking about things in the last two years. I created a program from scratch and now I am asked to run something like this. It has opened a lot of doors for me and posed a lot of questions of how to incorporate this into my career,” Naomi said. “From this, I truly believe that one can impart their values and make change in any environment they’re in.”
Applications for the Avodah Justice Fellowship are open in Kansas City and Chicago. Apply here.
The Joseph Stern Social Justice Fellowship for High School Students is a cohort-based, intensive, 10-month program that gives teens of all abilities the opportunity to learn about and practice making change in their communities, with support from an experienced activist.
Over the course of the program, participants will:
- Learn together about ways to effect change in the world.
- Engage in in-depth discussions on social justice issues selected by the participants.
- Meet with community leaders and activists.
- Practice what they’ve learned in small teams and make change!
Thursdays, Oct 6, 2022–May 18, 2023, 6–7:30 pm, $700
Register Here: https://bit.ly/3RLYPCL
Sessions will take place in person at the JCC. It is important to us that this program be financially accessible for all who are interested. If your family would like to discuss financial assistance for this program, please email Austin Rieders at email@example.com.
The Joseph Stern Social Justice Fellowship is copresented by BBYO, Avodah, and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and funded by the Matana Giving Circle.