Thursday, February 04, 2016

Involve Youth in Meaningful Ways

For many years I've heard activist say "involve youth in decision making" since they are the ones you're trying to influence.  Today during the Strengthening Chicago Youth (SCY-Chicago) quarterly meeting, the topic was "Holding Systems Accountable for Violence Prevention".  I offered some reflection on this blog.

Many of the participants at the SCY-Chicago event were passionate about having youth voice involved in meaningful ways.

I agree. But. Making change happen requires many years, and the involvement of many people.

This graphic is a collection of three different graphics, related to the same idea. If we want to help young people grow to become healthy, thriving, employed adults, we need to reach them early and stay connected to them, with a variety of different, age-appropriate supports, for many years.  If the youth was born, or is living in medium income or higher level income brackets, there are many supports naturally available to him and his family, to overcome the challenges he/she will face in growing up and finding a job/career. (see map)

If the young person is born or living in areas of low income and/or extreme poverty, she faces many of the same problems as other kids, but without the same type of naturally occurring supports to help him/her overcome those challenges. In addition, he/she has influences in his/her life that other kids don't grow up with, like hunger, high levels of stress related to violence, many adults without college education, with prison records, with low wage jobs. 

For kids who live in high poverty the support systems that would help them overcome these challenges needs to be built and be available to them close to where they live. Such supports don't just appear. They require a group of dedicated people to launch a program, build it to the point where it is effective at what it offers, then keep it great for many years as young people move from first grade to first job.

Assuming every youth age 14-21 were actively involved today in designing this system, they will be adults between the age of 30-40 before the first kids entering first grade today will be entering jobs and careers in their mid 20's. That's assuming great programs in every neighborhood were made available by next year. Not likely.

Thus, while youth need to have their voices involved, the system they help create needs to be one that will keep them continuously involved, engaged and contributing time, talent, dollars and votes, to solutions, for the rest of their lives.

 The Internet offers a platform for such "stickiness" but I've not yet seen any magic pill that builds the type of learning habits and personal accountability that will get people from both sides of the poverty gap consistently connected for a lifetime of learning and involvement.

Which leads me to this. During 2016 youth will be invited to write letters to the next President, via a program led by the National Writing Project and the Bay-Area PBS station KQED. Read this blog article to learn about this opportunity for young people to voice their ideas about what the next President (and local elected officials) need to do to end violence and create greater opportunities for youth in America.  

I will post notes from today's SCY-Chicago meeting once they make them public. If you've written a blog article, with your own theory of change, or strategy maps, then please share your link in the comment section, or share it with me on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. 

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