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Tapping into Youth Expertise

By Nicole Yohalem, Director, Road Map Project Opportunity Youth Initiative

Nov. 21, 2013

In the past few weeks, I’ve had several good reminders of a simple fact that somehow is easy to forget:  Young people are themselves deep experts on youth issues.

Too often, youth are not involved in decision-making that affects their lives. We need their voices and their stories – not just to keep us grounded, but because if our goal is to support their success  in education, work, citizenship or all of the above,  their expertise can help us develop more effective solutions.

Here are three notable exceptions to the norm (of not involving youth), that I’ve had the pleasure of participating in during the first half of November:

OY report cover image

Got Green report

1. Last Tuesday, Got Green, a grassroots organizing group based in Southeast Seattle released this report and recommendations based on a 10-month effort by youth and young adults of color to study and document the experiences of their peers in the region. Their report identifies critical barriers young people face in pursuing their education and career goals – and recommends concrete, achievable policy changes designed to address these barriers.

2. At the GradNation Regional Summit, organized by the City of Bellevue, SOAR, and many other partners, including the Road Map Project, youth were paired with adults to present on a range of issues. I had the pleasure of co-presenting on collective impact with Natasha Babayan, a senior from Sammamish High School who bravely shared her personal story and spoke eloquently to the powerful role that the Boys and Girls Club has played in supporting her development as a student and a leader.

3. At a convening of sites participating in the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, I met and heard from many incredible young people who have overcome significant hurdles and are actively giving back as young leaders. Among them were Jamiel Alexander and Shawnice Jackson, two members of the National Council of Young Leaders, which has issued a thoughtful set of recommendations for increasing opportunity and reducing poverty in America.

As we partner over the coming months to identify systemic, regional actions we can take to reconnect opportunity youth to education and career pathways, we will be listening to and involving youth in the process. Last year, SOAR began building the King County Youth Advisory Council, which provided valuable input into the United Way of King County’s Reconnecting Youth efforts and has already informed our thinking. By partnering with SOAR and other youth organizing efforts, we can hold up the voices of young leaders in our community and at the same time, ensure our system-building efforts reflect their experiences and expertise.