Supporting Youth Leadership and Evidence2Success in Memphis

Posted December 13, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young Black man smiles into the camera. He is wearing glasses and a short-sleeved shirt. A backpack is slung over one shoulder, and he is clutching a book and a folder in the other arm.

Build­ing on feed­back from a group of young lead­ers in 2020, the Evidence2Success™ part­ner­ship in Mem­phis has been expand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for local youth to help shape poli­cies and pro­grams meant to improve their com­mu­ni­ty. BRIDGES, a local non­prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to unit­ing and inspir­ing diverse young lead­ers, has been brought on to sup­port these efforts.

One of the first changes the Mem­phis part­ner­ship made was to estab­lish a youth-focused work­group, co-led by BRIDGES, that would enable young peo­ple who attend local high schools to shape the imple­men­ta­tion plans for Evidence2Success. Devel­oped by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Evidence2Success is a frame­work that com­bines pub­lic health and pre­ven­tion sci­ence to help chil­dren and youth meet crit­i­cal behav­ioral, edu­ca­tion­al, emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal milestones. 

As a start­ing point, the exist­ing adult mem­bers of Memphis’s Evidence2Success gov­ern­ing board joined the new work­group for a series of train­ings on estab­lish­ing authen­tic youth-adult part­ner­ships. Ulti­mate­ly, they hoped to devel­op a shared set of expec­ta­tions and work­ing agreements.

This process uncov­ered a few areas of mis­align­ment among the adult and youth par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing the under­ly­ing caus­es of chal­lenges that young peo­ple in Mem­phis are fac­ing and how and why key deci­sions should be made. Through a series of facil­i­tat­ed dis­cus­sions, BRIDGES was able to help the group work through their dif­fer­ences and move forward.

While hav­ing dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions is not easy, we wel­come it as a nat­ur­al part of the process,” says Tosca Nance-Jones, vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment at BRIDGES. The result is a pow­er­ful, inter­gen­er­a­tional group work­ing togeth­er to trans­form communities.”

Once all par­ties were on the same page, the young lead­ers quick­ly embraced the task of devel­op­ing a detailed Evidence2Success work plan. Among oth­er steps, they hope to:

  • recruit addi­tion­al young peo­ple to join the gov­ern­ing board; 
  • allow addi­tion­al time ahead of key meet­ings so that youth mem­bers can review and digest rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion; and
  • host learn­ing dis­cus­sions on top­ics such as help­ing stu­dents address trau­ma in schools.

In my expe­ri­ence, adults are usu­al­ly unaware that they have to change the way they see younger gen­er­a­tions,” says Lakia Oak­ley, a facil­i­ta­tor with BRIDGES. They must take the time to reflect on how they’ve engaged with young peo­ple in the past and be more inten­tion­al about that engage­ment going forward.”

In addi­tion to its work with Evidence2Success, BRIDGES is lead­ing sev­er­al oth­er efforts to expand youth lead­er­ship not just in Mem­phis, but nation­al­ly. For exam­ple, the orga­ni­za­tion is: 

  • help­ing Mem­phis Pub­lic Libraries redesign and expand its teen advi­so­ry coun­cils to increase engage­ment and agency among youth; 
  • sup­port­ing young peo­ple in Mem­phis to advise on com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and gun-vio­lence pre­ven­tion efforts; and 
  • work­ing with six cities­ — Tul­sa, Okla­homa; Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin; Mem­phis, Ten­nessee; Fres­no, Cal­i­for­nia; Boise, Ida­ho; and Thorn­ton, Col­orado — as part of the Striv­e­To­geth­er ini­tia­tive to assess and trans­form youth-serv­ing sys­tems and shift pub­lic resources to ensure they bet­ter posi­tion young peo­ple for edu­ca­tion­al and career success.

It’s cru­cial to have orga­ni­za­tions like BRIDGES at the table,” says Traci Broady, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foun­da­tion. They’re able to con­nect with a diverse group of young peo­ple who all have dif­fer­ent inter­ests, con­cerns and ideas about how to bet­ter their com­mu­ni­ties, while also hold­ing sys­tem lead­ers account­able to those per­spec­tives and ensur­ing youth are giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shape deci­sions that affect them.”

Many oth­er Evidence2Success com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing Mia­mi, are also focused on bol­ster­ing their part­ner­ships with young lead­ers. The local lead­er­ship team in Lib­er­ty City will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in addi­tion­al train­ings to bet­ter inte­grate youth voice in their deci­sion-mak­ing process­es and has already begun engag­ing young peo­ple to ana­lyze data from the Evidence2Success Youth Expe­ri­ence Sur­vey and select evi­dence-based programs.

Learn about Evidence2Success in Kearns, Utah

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