Supporting Youth Leadership and Evidence2Success in Memphis
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.