The Importance of Youth Advocacy

A Conversation with Young Leaders

Posted December 13, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Headshots of four young people around a circle

Youth, espe­cial­ly those who have been involved in pub­lic sys­tems or expe­ri­enced home­less­ness, must be giv­en resources and sup­port to share their sto­ries and advo­cate for the things they need to thrive. That was the theme of a pan­el dis­cus­sion held last month dur­ing the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s fifth annu­al Learn and Earn to Achieve Poten­tial (LEAP)™ convening.

The speak­ers, all of whom are nation­al LEAP fel­lows and lead­ers, out­lined sev­er­al ways that youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions can help young peo­ple shape the poli­cies and deci­sions that affect them.

Among the recommendations:

  • Fos­ter safe and wel­com­ing envi­ron­ments where young peo­ple feel com­fort­able dis­cussing their expe­ri­ences with staff and each oth­er. I could feel a shift of my mind­set and my ener­gy when I was able to com­mu­ni­cate what I was going through and what I need­ed,” says Tyeisha Thomp­son. She also high­light­ed the impor­tant role shar­ing sto­ries can have in cre­at­ing pos­i­tive change for oth­er young peo­ple in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions: “[I]t’s nice to take con­trol… and use your sto­ry and expe­ri­ence to cre­ate change.”
  • Pro­vide youth with oppor­tu­ni­ties to strength­en their pub­lic-speak­ing skills. Pub­lic speak­ing would be a great addi­tion to the cur­ricu­lum in the LEAP program…and I think it should be a fun­da­men­tal step in young people’s growth,” says Jaime Jimenez. How are we sup­posed to know the prob­lems that need to be solved immediately…without [young peo­ple] being able to speak for them­selves and give out the information?”
  • Rede­fine advo­ca­cy and help young peo­ple see that they can do it in their dai­ly lives. I want to break down the anx­ious feel­ing around advo­ca­cy,” says Zory­na (Zee) Lealai. Pub­lic speak­ing and advo­ca­cy, if we break them down, are what we do every day…it’s sim­ply say­ing yes or no and then build­ing off of that.”

The pan­elists also empha­sized the impor­tance of rela­tion­ships in help­ing young peo­ple take advan­tage of resources and achieve their edu­ca­tion and career goals.

Once I start­ed to build a connection…I found myself get­ting more and more involved, more and more invest­ed in what [LEAP] was offer­ing, and I start­ed going to every sin­gle work­shop,” says Jimenez.

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