Working Effectively With Young People Requires Authentic Partnerships

Posted March 3, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Mayors Brandon Scott of Baltimore, Jerry Dyer of Fresno, California, and Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, Washington

From left: Mayors Brandon Scott of Baltimore, Jerry Dyer of Fresno, California, and Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, Washington

A Youth Voice and Pow­er Sum­mit host­ed Feb. 22 by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion gave a vir­tu­al audi­ence the chance to hear from may­ors and young lead­ers on how foun­da­tions, non­prof­its, gov­ern­ment and busi­ness can work effec­tive­ly with young peo­ple. It was the sec­ond in a series of events tied to the Foundation’s announce­ment that it will ded­i­cate at least half of its invest­ments over the next decade to improv­ing the well-being and prospects of youth and young adults ages 1424 so that they may thrive by 25.

May­ors Bran­don Scott of Bal­ti­more, Jer­ry Dyer of Fres­no, Cal­i­for­nia, and Vic­to­ria Woodards of Taco­ma, Wash­ing­ton, joined a round­table to dis­cuss youth part­ner­ship and lead­er­ship in their respec­tive cities.

In launch­ing Tacoma’s first youth com­mis­sion, Woodards expect­ed a few dozen appli­ca­tions at most, but the city heard from more than 125 young peo­ple who had some­thing to say. They oper­ate in four dif­fer­ent com­mit­tees — jus­tice and safe­ty; edu­ca­tion, arts and cul­ture; envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy; and social health — and we allow to them to lead in the way they want to lead,” she said. The com­mis­sion recent­ly pre­sent­ed the may­or with a list of rec­om­mend­ed reforms to the city police depart­ment, chal­leng­ing elect­ed offi­cials to take action.

In Bal­ti­more, Scott cred­it­ed an orga­ni­za­tion led by youth — Bmore Beyond Plas­tic — with chang­ing the tra­jec­to­ry of city pol­i­cy. We would not have passed leg­is­la­tion in Bal­ti­more around Sty­ro­foam and plas­tic bags… were it not for high school stu­dents com­ing to Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil by the droves.”

As Scott and Woodards nod­ded, Dyer said young peo­ple in his city have made it clear that it’s not enough for them sim­ply to have a seat at the table. They know when they’re being used. That’s why it’s so impor­tant for us to build that trust­ing rela­tion­ship with them, to be an active listener.”

Young peo­ple on the tran­si­tion team Scott formed after he was elect­ed had the same kind of pow­er that every­one else had there,” he said. You have to empow­er them to be a part of (change), not just at the begin­ning but every sin­gle step of the way.”

Young peo­ple are not our future,” Woodards added. They are our present. They’re here today and we should engage them now.”

Dur­ing a pan­el dis­cus­sion explor­ing the Foundation’s own work with youth and young adults, Sonia Emer­son, a young fel­low with the Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive®, said it is essen­tial to be inten­tion­al about engag­ing young peo­ple in con­ver­sa­tion. It’s about cre­at­ing a cul­ture where we feel safe and where things aren’t just being rub­ber stamped,” as well as ask­ing young peo­ple thought­ful ques­tions, she said.

Youth voice in the equa­tion is so utter­ly impor­tant” to authen­tic part­ner­ship, added Kirsten Allen, a young busi­ness and strat­e­gy con­sul­tant. Allen iden­ti­fied two hall­marks of such part­ner­ships that she has found valu­able: equi­table com­pen­sa­tion for par­tic­i­pants and deci­sion-mak­ing authority.

Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Lisa Hamil­ton said this series of events is demon­strat­ing the val­ue of hear­ing from young lead­ers. We can’t just advo­cate on behalf of young peo­ple,” she said. They must be part of devel­op­ing solu­tions to the chal­lenges they face.”

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