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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
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2

Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership

The day’s presentations were preceded by spoken word poetry from Jose Cordon, a spoken word artist from the Bay Area of California.1 Cordon told attendees he would take them on “a quick journey . . . of a young person going from powerless and lost, to becoming aware of the power within, the power of choice and action, the power of one’s voice to educate, liberate, and elevate.”

Cordon said that he was from an immigrant family that moved frequently and that he found himself fitting in most easily with “the troublemakers.” He said that, with much guidance, he was able to channel his energy in a more positive direction. Cordon explained that the poem he planned to share was his attempt to communicate what he and others experienced growing up in Northern California’s Bay Area. The poem was intended to speak to young people’s feelings, attitudes, and behaviors in the context of their realities as well as perceived realities. He emphasized that “before tapping into the power, creativity and leadership of young people, it is important to understand how they view the world, society, and system that upholds the status quo.”

His poem, titled “Lost Child,” was a meditation on the roots and consequences of gun violence and on society’s failure to understand and respond appropriately, and it ended by juxtaposing the “tough guy” persona of

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1 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLGTMA6QkejfjOd2yF7NtGK5Vos1UGcQml&v=pgq2MYTQZMk to watch the recording of the spoken word poetry (accessed November 3, 2023).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
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youth on the street with the reality: “at 14, 15, he ain’t no thug, he is just a lost child.”

Cordon went on to say that “feeling lost and confused is a common experience in youth,” making it all the more important to have people, as well as systems, organizations, and programs, in place to redirect, develop, and inspire young people. He added that “if the desire to improve the conditions around oneself could be inspired early and nurtured by those around [young people], . . . it’s only a matter of time before they begin to take action.”

His next poem spoke to this process of becoming aware of one’s power within, describing a 14-year-old on probation who “didn’t know the power he had over his own destination” and whose fear of being alone and need for approval led him to run to “the herd” until he realized that “he was the controlling factor.” Cordon said that “sometimes, the voice, power, and potential of young people are limited by the people they have met, the conversations they have had or heard, the conversations they haven’t had or heard, the things and places they have or haven’t seen.” He shared a story about his high school English-as-a-second-language teacher who greeted every student by name with the statement “you can change the world.” Cordon explained how he internalized and believed that statement, even though the teacher said it to everyone. He went on to report that this teacher gave him a book, Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which, while hard to read, spoke to the teacher’s belief in Cordon and the person he would eventually become. Cordon concluded by saying, “If you believe in young people, challenge them, give them opportunities to step up, to take leadership roles,” even if they do not choose to do so, “the important thing is to let them know that they can.”

The first panel was moderated by Jonathan Todres, a professor of law at Georgia State University. Todres said that his research focuses on children’s rights, youth participation, human rights education, and related topics.

Todres said that the panel aimed to explore youth civic participation and “the frameworks and challenges that shape youth leadership.” He described the context that has characterized the present-day landscape, remarking that although youth leadership has garnered greater attention in recent years—for instance, through the “celebrated global cases” of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai—youth participation and leadership have a long history in society and in this country, including as part of the civil rights movement.

Todres further spoke about how the law “largely resists” youth civic engagement and power, meaning that “youth leadership and engagement often occur in spite of the societal structures and institutions that exist.” He said that the law limits young people’s rights and ability to “contribute

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

to policy decisions about their communities,” including denial and restriction of voting rights, regulations limiting young people’s economic power, restrictions on speech in school and related settings, and local ordinances on truancy and other status offenses that make it harder for them to assemble and “bring about change that they want to see for themselves, their peers, and their communities.” After emphasizing that these challenges have had and continue to have implications for the health equity of young people and their communities, Todres introduced the panel.

The panel consisted of Mónica Córdova, a co-director of the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing; Shawn Ginwright, a professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University; and Pedro Noguera, the dean of the School of Education at the University of Southern California. Highlights from the panel are provided in Box 2-1.

To begin, Todres invited each speaker to share some of the experiences that inform their perspectives on youth civic engagement and leadership. Córdova said that she first got engaged in youth leadership in middle school and continues her career in youth organizing to this day. She spoke about the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a collaborative of both funders and youth-organizing practitioners, and its goal of ensuring that young people have access to the necessary “resources, tools, and capacities to build the types of social change necessary to create a just and democratic society.” Córdova said that she first wanted to set the context for what youth organizing is, asking attendees if they recall the first time they experienced or witnessed injustice and asking how that made them feel. In her case, she continued, she was in the first grade when she corrected her teacher about the pronunciation of her name, resulting in her getting in trouble and going home crying. Córdova noted that this was a moment when she began to understand that the education system has impacts on children as young as kindergarten and the first grade. She explained that she was able to keep her passion for justice, finding organizations and places where people invested in and understood her power as a young person to implement change.

Córdova offered four key components of youth organizing:

  1. Engaging the youth most affected by injustice and systemic oppression,
  2. Supporting the leadership and holistic development of young people,
  3. Strengthening intergenerational and intersectional movements, and
  4. Shifting power dynamics to create systemic change.

She said that this framework is grounded in gender and racial economic justice and supports the individual as well as collective develop-

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

ment of young people. Córdova discussed the importance of creating the opportunity for young people to not only be at the table and have their voices taken into consideration, but to actually be decision makers in the process. She further elaborated on the need to recognize that health intersects with many aspects of life, including housing, education, community safety, and access to healthy food. Córdova also underscored the value of “building a pipeline of [youth] leaders that, no matter where they go, can continue in organizing work” because they are equipped with the requisite understanding and analysis. Finally, she noted that while youth

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

organizing is inclusive of leadership development, socioemotional development, and understanding organizing, “it ultimately has to be about systems change.” She highlighted the importance of youth “developing a critical consciousness of social issues and analyzing the political conditions” and building a base of their peers, families, and communities to improve the conditions of their own communities. Córdova concluded by showing the youth engagement continuum (Figure 2-1) and pointing out the value of each component (youth services, youth development, leadership development, youth civic engagement, and youth organizing).

Next, Ginwright spoke on his background as an African American father raising a family in Oakland, California, and as a practitioner who created and ran an organization with the goal of building political consciousness among Black youth. He said that as a father of an African American son and daughter, he has been “deeply concerned” about the way that such institutions as schools, police, and departments of parks and recreation perceive his children. As a practitioner, he aims to address the “gross absence” of space to organize Black youth in Oakland. Ginwright identified what he sees as “missing ingredients” in the youth development field, including the fact that youth development tends to be “apolitical” and largely absent on issues like suffering, fear, anxiety, and shame that are affecting youth and their communities. He also acknowledged that these types of issues were not covered in the available youth development training and literature.

Ginwright said that as a practitioner he aimed to support young people in “building their political awareness and consciousness” and equipping them with the skills to “organize to create the conditions they wanted to see in their schools and communities.” As a researcher, he said, he investigated how current political and legal structures caused the young people he worked with to “occupy a persistent Jim Crow status” with “very few tools and opportunities to shape those laws, policies, and practices” that shape their lives. He said that his research aimed to understand the elements needed to uplift young people in society, the actions that philanthropy could take to provide a space for young people to have a public impact and show examples where young people have created systemic change and institutional transformation.

In his closing, Ginwright remarked on how the voices of young people and the institutions where they want to see change (e.g., education system) have affected his work on the board for the California Endowment. This resulted in a shift of focus for the organization and the development of a strategy to “understand the centrality of youth voice and begin to divert resources to build youth power in this state.”

Noguera, joining on video conference, began by explaining that he sees the concept of youth being strongly influenced by social and eco-

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
Image
FIGURE 2-1 Youth engagement continuum.
SOURCE: Córdova presentation, September 19, 2022. https://fcyo.org/uploads/resources/8141_Papers_no1_v4.qxd.pdf (accessed June 1, 2023).
Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

nomic class. He underscored how “youth in many ways is a luxury that many young people don’t get to experience because they’re faced with the burdens and responsibilities of the economic realities that face their families,” such as needing to work.

He further detailed how engaging young people from working-class and low-income backgrounds requires being aware of and acknowledging the constraints created by their circumstances. Moreover, he said, these circumstances could present new opportunities, such as engaging young people to advocate for their rights as workers, given that many young people are in low-wage jobs or exploited through wage theft, and some—particularly immigrant youth—may drop out of school to support themselves and their families. Noguera commented on the importance of engaging youth on topics such as these because otherwise “we will leave out a growing number of young people whose economic circumstances don’t give them the privilege to think only about their identity.”

Noguera used his experience having taught at the college level for 30 years to distinguish the issues that affluent young people are focused on (questions of personal identity such as sexuality and race) from those that more working-class young people are focused on (which include more global issues such as climate change, growing inequality, and the global refugee crisis). He further explained that working-class young people tended to focus on issues that affect their lives and their families. For instance, many working-class young people are concerned about issues such as immigration, homelessness, and racial justice because their families are experiencing deportation, displacement, and direct conflict or confrontations with the police.

Noguera also spoke about his experiences serving on the board of youth organizations Inner City Struggle in Los Angeles and Brotherhood Sister Sol in Harlem, New York.2 Through this work, he saw that when youth are equipped with “adult science” to help understand the problems in their community, they can be engaged consistently to confront those problems. He emphasized that adult support is a necessary element. He also referred to Pedagogy of the Oppressed and discussed the need for individuals and groups to make meaning of concepts in light of their own experiences and what implications the concepts may have for them personally. Noguera concluded by reiterating that there is no universal definition of youth, and that the definition is specific and influenced by class, the country one is in, and other factors. Moreover, he said, “the circumstances facing young people will influence the kinds of issues they will care about, the kinds of ways in which they will become involved in

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2 See https://brotherhood-sistersol.org/ (accessed December 29, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

civic and political and social organizing.” Todres thanked Noguera and further stressed this last point, noting that inclusivity was a key consideration in the planning of this event, including “recognizing difference and accounting for difference and addressing the needs of all young people.”

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Todres began the structured discussion for the panel with a question about the historical context of youth engagement and youth leadership. He focused on the evolution of youth engagement, as well as the institutions and structures that shape youth engagement and leadership.

Córdova responded first by saying that her organization, the Funders’ Collaborative for Youth Organizing, recognizes that “young people have been at the forefront of social movements for generations.” She said a notable change occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when young people began to organize as their own constituency in response to issues that were specifically affecting them. Some of these issues included highly restrictive policies and procedures that targeted youth, particularly young people of color, which resulted in an increased risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system. These policies included youth curfews and restrictions on the number of young people who were allowed to be together in public spaces. In addition, Córdova said that young people were also recognizing the failures of the educational system, such as large classes or too few textbooks. She suggested these realizations contributed to young people coming together and organizing around these issues. She then described the evolution of this movement, beginning with campaigns focused on what was happening in their classrooms, and over time (as the number of youth involved, their analysis, and their organizational infrastructure and ability to form a coalition with other institutions all grew), growing to take on larger and pressing issues in their communities. She said that this work was both built on what happened in other social justice movements and spurred by the particular era of the early 2000s, which included issues such as 9/11, the “war on terror,” Occupy Wall Street, and the struggle to change immigration policy.

Ginwright said that he sees the historical context of youth organizing similarly to how Córdova does, and he outlined three waves of youth organizing around “various forms of justice and injustice.” First, he said, was the Civil Rights Era organizing, such as that of the Black Panther Party, which was focused more on identity and trying to influence the political consciousness of young Black people in order to effect systemic change. Ginwright said that this form of organizing happened through chapters across the United States and was the “epicenter of where we began to see young people taking on and trying to change systems.”

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

Second, Ginwright continued, was the era of youth organizing in the late 1990s and early 2000s that Córdova spoke about, which was focused “around school violence, around suspensions and expulsions, where young people are advocating for their own issues on their own grounds.” And third was the more recent era of organizing from 2010 to the present, which Ginwright said was focused on what he termed “healing justice,” with an increased focus on developmental supports for young people, accompanied by an acknowledgment and pathway to resolution for the trauma inflicted by current social systems such as schools and police departments). Ginwright said this focus was a course correction from the prior wave of organizing, which was “focused almost entirely on power and base building . . . so much so that young people or organizations didn’t think about the development that young people needed in order to actually organize well.” He mentioned examples of young people coming to organizing meetings, but their families being displaced or them not having eaten all day—developmental issues that were not addressed in the organizing spaces of that era. In contrast, he said, in the current era of organizing there is a recognition “that ending the system is necessary but insufficient for cultivating well-being among young people.” Ginwright shared examples of groups of African American and Latino young men, some formerly incarcerated, gathering in what he described as, first, a support group (discussing their lives and how they are navigating the personal issues they face) and second, a place to discuss organizing issues that are relevant to them in their city.

Next Noguera offered his perspective on the historical evolution of youth organizing, beginning by referring to the Lowell Mill Women’s Strike, which was organized by young women and girls in Massachusetts in 1836.3 This strike was conducted by the first working women’s union in the United States, and the actions of this movement sparked more social justice movements, including women’s suffrage and the development of child labor laws (National Park Service, 2021).

Noguera then reiterated his earlier points about the differences between working-class youth, who are often forced to take on adult responsibilities, and affluent youth, who are often able to attend college, do internships, and travel, due to parental support and the absence of work responsibilities Thus, he said, “we have to keep class circumstances in mind in this discussion about youth; otherwise, we’ll end up with broad generalizations that don’t help us in understanding the particular needs facing young people from lower-income backgrounds right now across the country.” To further elaborate on this example, Noguera spoke

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3 See https://aflcio.org/about/history/labor-history-events/lowell-mill-women-form-union (accessed December 29, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

about the issues of survival affecting young people. He mentioned the lack of jobs for young people in states like West Virginia, leading to a decline in the youth population in those areas as they move out of state in search of opportunity. He also noted the increased rate of homelessness among young people living in California and how these circumstances—which are often invisible, with youth living “doubled up” or “tripled up” with families leading to huge hardships and frequent school changes—“impact the ability of young people to be involved and be engaged.”

Noguera said that engaging youth in such circumstances requires being mindful of and proactively addressing their economic challenges, such as low wages, the housing crisis, and their need to work (which he suggested has contributed to the significant decline in community college enrollment in California, even when tuition fees are eliminated). Noguera then stated that there are many examples of where this is happening, such as in work around immigration rights, where young people are at the forefront “because they understand so clearly how their future is being impacted.” He concluded by emphasizing that “we’ve got to meet young people where they are and not generalize around the youth population.”

To conclude the discussion of the first question Todres highlighted that the “receding” of public institutions (i.e., diminishment of the role of government in society) from communities over the past couple decades has had a disparate impact on communities.

GOALS OF YOUTH CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP

The next question Todres posed to the panel involved the desired goals and aims of youth civic engagement and leadership. Noguera said “it’s most important to engage young people around the issues that most directly impact them and their lives,” sharing the example of the Y-PLAN (Youth-Plan, Learn, Act Now) program conducted by the Center for Communities and Schools at the University of California, Berkeley.4 The program works by engaging young people in middle school and high school in thinking and planning about the pressing issues in their communities. Noguera described how this program walks young people through understanding issues like violence in their community, critically examining the source of the issue as well as creative ways in which it could be approached.

Noguera continued that this kind of engagement, which requires understanding of how laws and policies are made, allows young people to “have a clearer sense of what’s going on, to get a more critical perspective on the factors shaping their community, so that they can become

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4 See https://y-plan.berkeley.edu/toolkit/ (accessed December 29, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

agents of change in their communities, and hopefully emerge as the next leaders.” Noguera concluded by emphasizing that while there are models for effectively engaging youth, “it has to start with the issues that are impacting their lives.”

Ginwright then elaborated on Noguera’s comments about youth needing to understand the civic systems in order to effectively engage, noting that even the term “civic engagement” conveys ideas of knowledge and skills related to government and an understanding of how these systems work. He said that the model for civics he experienced in high school was to educate students on the branches of government and required a volunteering element at a community institution, such as a soup kitchen. Ginwright explained that while this type of civic engagement does have an element of connecting young people to their communities, it does not necessarily educate students on the specific issues that directly affect them. Next, Ginwright discussed something experienced by his colleague Julio Cammarota, a professor of education at the University of Arizona. Ginwright described how Cammarota began a youth participatory action research project in a school with the objective of building the political consciousness of Latino and Latina young people (Cammarota, 2017). A year later, he said, these young people were advocating for ethnic studies to become a subject in all Tucson schools, and as the effort became statewide and political, it was shut down by the state’s governor. Ginwright concluded by saying that this project provided the students with a different texture and reality of civic engagement than what is typically taught, enabling them to advocate for and involve themselves in an issue that was strongly connected to their lives and identities. Todres added that Ginwright’s example shows how many older civic engagement models are not about power sharing and youth leadership but rather “drawing resources from young people and their participation.”

Next, Córdova spoke about the importance of organizations or individuals “actually do[ing] the work to assess [their] role in an ecosystem.” In addition, she suggested that youth development work and youth social service work are distinct from youth organizing, but often “the lines get a little bit blurred.” She further described the need to understand the goal of one’s organization or institutions and then consider how to best incorporate youth-organizing principles. Córdova suggested that for youth-serving organizations like the YMCA, the goal should be to ensure that their programs are affecting young people. For youth-organizing entities “the goal is systems change, and the process by which that happens is ensuring that young people along the way have a role in determining the targets, understanding the goals, planning the campaign, developing the messaging, and then becoming the messengers themselves.”

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

Córdova then detailed her experience as a youth organizer at the Southwest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she worked on a youth-organized campaign to prohibit local police officers from carrying guns on school campuses. During this campaign, she said, young people took the lead at every step, from identifying the targets of the campaign, based on power mapping and the context of that particular school board, to developing messaging and mailers. With support from adults and other organizations, this messaging was distributed to voters to encourage them to attend school board meetings because some board members had changed their position on actions they would take to address the issue of safety in schools. Córdova added that they worked with teachers’ unions and administrators, and conducted messaging training, all contributing to a strong campaign. Although they lost this particular campaign, Córdova emphasized how it contributed to the long-term goal of building the skills and “muscles” needed within young people to advocate for systemic change. She added that these skills and muscles “can be used repetitively and through adulthood and throughout their whole lives.”

Todres then asked Córdova what can be done to sustain passion and commitment to a campaign even in the face of resistance and failures. In response, Córdova acknowledged she did “cry a few tears” in the wake of that particular campaign not succeeding, especially as young people told her they did everything they could. However, she said, the part of organizing that helps sustain passion and commitment is the understanding that this is long-term work. She noted that even if a campaign is not successful, the understanding and skills young people gain in analysis, assessment, and organization—as well as the community and support system they build—will be valuable in the long term, and she suggested that this situation is similar to the “you may have lost the battle, but you haven’t lost the war” saying. Córdova explained that having this bigger picture perspective enables the young people involved “to understand that even if they had won there would probably be another fight, and they’re still working towards a longer-term vision and agenda of what they want their communities to look like.”

STRATEGIES FOR YOUTH CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP

Todres then referred back to Noguera’s earlier statement regarding the importance of partnering with young people to understand the issues that matter to their lives and asked how organizations that are less familiar with working directly with young people might go about engaging them in this work. Noguera recommended that people seek out partnerships with organizations, including nonprofits and community-based

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

organizations, that are already doing this work with young people in their community. Noguera also emphasized that although his comments have focused on the needs and efforts of working-class youth, middle-class and affluent youth also have a role in advocacy since they are citizens and community members all the same. He noted that “getting them involved now is going to be very important for the kinds of adults they’ll become,” but that the “nature of their involvement will vary depending on their circumstances and . . . class situation.”

Todres then asked the panelists how young people can be prepared to engage successfully, assume leadership positions, and exercise power. Noguera responded by first emphasizing the importance of involving young people as organizers and guiding young people through the steps of understanding the complexity of issues affecting their communities. Second, he said, there is a need to recognize the “need to get other people on your side,” noting that this is “why we call them an organizer.” He said that the “art of organizing has been lost” to some extent, simplified to protest attendance and social media posts, as opposed to being focused on figuring out how to educate and persuade those who currently do not see the importance of an issue to view it as important and become allies, even if they are not directly affected. Noguera offered examples of movements that were supported by both those affected and those not affected, such as the California grape workers’ strike5 and the grape boycott by the public in 1965–1966 as well as recent responses to incidents of police violence. He said that the grape boycott was successful “because people who ate grapes supported the people who picked grapes,” instead of leaving it up to only the pickers. Similarly, he said, with respect to police violence, “it’s not just those who experience the violence that need to be organized, it’s those who don’t want to live in a country where the police violate the rights of people.” He emphasized that working together is a stronger approach compared to organizing based on identity alone. On this point, Noguera added that this is what troubles him currently, that “it’s only people who are affected by an issue who think it is their job” to do something about it, citing the example of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students organizing for immigrants’ rights and noting that they will not be successful if it is up to them alone. Noguera emphasized that young people must understand “there’s an art to building alliances, there’s an art to using media effectively that they need to learn if we’re going to be successful.” He said that because people are now so used to speaking only with those who already agree with them on social media, they do not realize it is important to reach

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5 See https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/workers-united-the-delano-grape-strike-and-boycott.htm (accessed November 29, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

beyond these populations and “reach people who don’t understand the issues [they are] facing.”

Todres then invited Ginwright to share some of the strategies that he has found to be successful in preparing young people to be organizers. “In my experience,” Ginwright replied, “the lesson is [that] that’s not the actual question.” He said that instead of focusing on how to prepare young people, it is more important to focus on how to prepare “the adults who are supporting young people.”

He added that many adults have a fundamental theory of change, and that the nature of this theory can either promote or inhibit young people from engaging in organizing. As an example, he said that some adult leaders of youth believe that no matter the goal of youth organizing, mentorship and discipline must be at the center of the effort for youth to become good organizers. However, Ginwright cautioned that an organization’s experience in youth mentorship and development does not translate directly to success in youth organizing. Ginwright then said that the best way to achieve more effective adult leadership in youth-organizing spaces is to actively and intentionally gather experienced adults to engage in conversations about how adults can effectively work with young people. When asked by Todres how to get entities to begin focusing on adults and prepare them to support young people, Ginwright suggested that organizations in youth development that want to shift focus to youth organizing should partner with those that have experience doing this type of work. He said that having staff with organizing experience and the capacity to understand issues that young people are experiencing is also important.

Córdova then described the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing’s field scan “that reflects on and assesses the last 20 years of youth organizing,” including the models, strategies, and issues of focus that make up the work of organizations in the field.6 She suggested that organizations wishing to know how to meaningfully engage young people “do the work,” using Google searches and exploring the research on the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing’s website that “details the history and trajectory of this work,” and so on. Córdova also emphasized the importance of adults recognizing the long-term nature of youth-organizing work, explaining that the systems “they’re functioning within . . . create a context of how they view young people.” She pointed out that since the field of youth organizing has greatly expanded in the past several decades, with hundreds of organizations, there are easily thousands of young people who have gone through these organizations. She added that these young people may not have a college education but do have

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6 https://fcyo.org/uploads/resources/20-years-of-youth-power-the-2020-national-youth-organizing-field-scan_resource_609d4a85ebe152ee0283274e.pdf (accessed April 12, 2023).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

concrete and highly desirable skills in youth organizing that can translate across many situations, including facilitation of group discussion, conducting one-on-one interviews, mobilizing communities, and communicating with the media. She concluded that shifting the framework to recognize and value these skills and experiences when reviewing resumes and hiring individuals to support youth-organizing efforts is essential.

ROLE OF THE STATE IN YOUTH ORGANIZING

The next question in the panel discussion called back to comments Ginwright had made earlier regarding the effects of trauma and negative experiences with state-run institutions, such as the police and schools, on youth-organizing efforts. Todres asked how organizations can influence state institutions to support and meet the needs of young people. Ginwright said that he thinks that state institutions represent an opposing force for many of these movements.

To give an example of using youth power to ameliorate failures of the state, Ginwright referred to the work of Jim Keddy and the organization Youth Forward.7 He explained that when California legalized cannabis for recreational use with the passage of Proposition 64 in the November 2016 election, there was no plan for how to use the billions in sales tax produced. Jim Keddy and other individuals who were familiar with the state infrastructure and resources as well as youth organizing formed the organization Youth Forward “to train young people to understand where power sits [and] how to exercise power.” Through this organization, Ginwright said, young people successfully lobbied the state and organized their communities to use these otherwise unallocated taxes on improving communities in California that had been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. He commented that in this situation, young people successfully engaged state institutions regarding the issue of unallocated tax revenue and made beneficial change possible.

Noguera added that “the state has an important role to play with respect to its investments in young people,” sharing the example of a successful ballot measure in San Francisco that allocated a percentage of the city’s budget to youth activities, thus substantially increasing the funds available to young people and youth-serving organizations.8 He said that a similar ballot measure was later passed in Alameda County.

___________________

7 https://www.youth-forward.org/ (accessed December 29, 2022).

8 See, for example, http://www.first5alameda.org/ballot-measures; https://ballotpedia.org/San_Francisco,_California,_Proposition_G,_Create_Student_Success_Fund_to_Provide_Additional_Grants_to_San_Francisco_Unified_School_District_Amendment_(November_2022) (accessed September 7, 2023).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

Noguera noted that while state institutions can provide strong investments to support young people, there are also actions of the state that are inefficient and ultimately harm young people. He provided the example of the Los Angeles County juvenile justice system spending $250,000 per year per incarcerated juvenile, adding that this cost is not reflective of “concierge treatment” but rather “a bloated system” where large portions of the budget fund personnel “who are not serving the needs of those who are incarcerated.”9 Thus, Noguera concluded, there is a need for policy advocates to call for more efficiency in the usage of public resources to ensure that young people are fully supported by the state institutions present in their communities, “so that young people have the ability to address their needs, get into school, further their goals, and be involved in their community.”

Córdova added that she thinks that “the state should be serving the common good of communities, and it doesn’t exist in that way.” She said that she was particularly excited about participatory budgeting and other means of providing direct input into where resources are going in one’s community, such as within the school system or city council. She added that “participating in that process can really help redirect resources to the types of things that communities actually value.”

SUCCESS STORIES FOR YOUTH CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

To conclude the structured discussion, Todres requested success stories from the panel, especially focusing on the strategies they have used to provide young people with a platform to exercise their power. Córdova spoke of her experience persuading philanthropic partners to invest in the work of young people as well as building capacity of those organizations that were working with young people. She further discussed the Jim Power Labs, which is an initiative within her organization with three different groups of young organizers working together to develop a common language—including defining power and the tactics and strategies to get them there—and to equip themselves with “tangible tools” to do a political and social assessment of their own organization, examining whether “their campaigns [are] actually adding up toward

___________________

9 The figure provided by Noguera likely reflects data from 2016 ($233,000), but more recent estimates—note also some differences in deriving the estimates—are far higher, ranging to a 2020 estimate of $304,000 to 2022 estimates of $770,000 to $1 million (see https://www.latimes.com/local/countygovernment/la-me-probation-sticker-shock-20160223-story.html; https://justicepolicy.org/; https://www.kold.com/2021/01/07/california-phase-out-division-juvenile-justice-creating-an-opportunity-substantial-reform/; https://imprintnews.org/opinion/l-a-s-mis-investment-in-youth-incarceration/64539; all accessed September 7, 2023).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

their long-term vision.” She described how this initiative arose out of many years of feedback from organizations and organizers that despite “doing all the things that organizing tells [them] to do . . . conditions for [their] communities are not changing.” She said that through this initiative, many organizations “have been having these lightbulb moments” about the degree to which they are consistently on the offense, given extreme conditions in their communities, and that the common language and tools they gain through the initiative can help them determine what things are and are not essential to their organizing work and the type of impact they seek to have.

Ginwright’s success story focused on examples of improvements in public safety “that are a result of young people’s voices and ongoing engagement in shifting these systems.” He spoke about the intended closure of San Francisco Juvenile Hall, which he attributed to the advocacy of young people and community-based organizations, and he added that young people are asking those resources to be diverted into wellness centers in their neighborhoods. He also spoke about the Black Organizing Project’s advocacy to replace school safety officers in Oakland with wellness officers or others who can understand and support young people instead of approaching public safety through “more discipline and coercion.”

Finally, Noguera discussed advocacy by youth organizers to remove police presence from schools in Los Angeles. While this campaign did not succeed in meeting that goal, Noguera noted that the youth organizers’ analysis and presentation of this issue—which involved examining the data regarding what police were being used for in schools and demonstrating it was largely for noncriminal offenses—resulted in resources being “redirected towards counselors and social workers, the kinds of people that provide the support young people need in schools.” Noguera said this is “a reminder that when you combine good research with organizing and advocacy, you can get things done” and that, even if young people do not win, “this is a protracted effort that we want them to engage in, and sometimes we do prevail.”

Todres concluded the structured discussion by noting that the success stories discussed were mainly from organizers in California and saying that there are other states where it has been even more difficult for youth organizers to advocate for change successfully.

AUDIENCE Q&A

Following Todres’s conclusion of the structured discussion, he opened the discussion for questions from the audience. The first question inquired about the role of philanthropy in this work. Ginwright responded by

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

mentioning the Ford Foundation, which he said was the first philanthropic organization to make significant investments to support youth organizing. He suggested that mainstream monetary support for youth organizing has decreased, but there continues to be support from foundations such as the Funders’ Collaborative and the Jewish Fund for Justice. He then reflected on how a philanthropic foundation’s choices of investment are based on that foundation’s theory of change and if that theory of change does not explicitly center community power, “then it becomes more difficult to align that strategy with youth organizing.”

Córdova spoke next, reiterating Ginwright’s point about community power and expanding on it to explain “that it’s not just about having a definition but applying it.” She added that philanthropic foundations tend to focus more on “models, frameworks, strategy refreshes, and rethinking things” rather than on action. She elaborated with details about the importance of engaging with the foundation to ensure that they have an improved and actionable understanding of community power and making sure the right individuals are engaged to direct funding streams in ways that are aligned with how the communities need those resources. Cordova added that “the ways in which change and impact get defined in philanthropy are also very skewed” and said that many philanthropic organizations do not understand power and thus do not understand organizing, especially by young people.10 Córdova suggested that “there is a lot of work that needs to be done from the program officer level through the trustees,” adding that even when program officers have the right understanding and are seeking to do good work, “the bureaucracy of their internal systems at their philanthropic institution . . . does not allow them to do so.” She added that the space created by her organization, the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, provides philanthropies with “a community of aligned funders that are really grappling with some of these issues” and enables these funders to build community to help build strategies inclusive of young people.

Next, Noguera discussed the importance of philanthropy working on an issue until there is clear evidence of progress. He also suggested that foundations should prioritize evaluation so that there is a thoughtful

___________________

10 See for example: “Young people know a lot about the challenges, needs, and strengths of their communities, yet typically have little institutionalized, formal power to influence adult community leaders. It is adults who sit on budget and school committees and decide where public dollars will go. It’s committees of adults at the local United Way or community foundation who decide how to allocate excess private wealth in the form of charitable dollars or grants, often in ways intended to benefit youth” (Sellar, 2018). See also “Youth organizing has won reforms, taught philanthropy important lessons about inclusive civic engagement, and informed intergenerational efforts to address health and related inequalities” (Terriquez and Williams, 2023).

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

approach to investing in communities. Todres echoed Noguera’s comment about evaluation and the importance of including young people in these evaluations “so that they are heard as part of the evaluation process.”

The next question from the audience focused on the role of education and how to ensure that the education system is responsive to the issues raised in this panel, for instance, through school redesign, resource reallocation, and overcoming resistance. Noguera responded first by describing a recent case in Los Angeles where students reported in their school newspaper on how staff members’ choices to not comply with the school district’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate resulted in staff member absences and school resources becoming limited (Martin, 2022). The students were challenged by the district for naming a staff member as an anti-vaxxer; however, ultimately the students won their case on the basis of the California Student Free Expression Law (1977). Noguera stated that this is an example of how schools tend to engage young people only in situations where the school will remain in control. This indicates that school leaders may feel threatened by this kind of work and may not be the kind of allies that are needed. Córdova continued the conversation by emphasizing the education system’s “antagonistic relationship with students, versus understanding students as having a valued stake in the conversation around how the system should be structured.” She suggested that this results in generally combative interactions with systems-level officials such as school boards and superintendents, who perceive youth organizers as people “here to fight with us” instead of people who want to improve the system so that more students are learning, more teachers have better conditions, and everyone experiences a healthier environment. “It doesn’t have to be that type of [combative] relationship,” she said. “It can actually be a partnership, and when done well, really beautiful things can happen within schools.”

The final question from the audience was about the role of youth organizing in addressing climate change, especially for communities of color. Córdova spoke about her experience with environmental justice and the upcoming launch of a collaboration she has worked on, Youth Organizing for Climate Action and Racial Equity, a collection of 40 organizations across the United States working on climate change. She further detailed how there are many grassroots youth organizers that are doing important work within their communities and that while some catch the spotlight, many others are not getting the resources they need to strengthen their capacity and thrive. She underscored the need to invest in these organizations “because it’s an issue that impacts all communities.”

Ginwright spoke on how environmental justice has not been a concern for working poor and working-class communities historically, but that the environmental conditions within neighborhoods affect these com-

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×

munities, nonetheless. He suggested that “those kinds of issues have to be connected to their daily reality,” such as making the connection between a nearby factory and family members’ asthma. To conclude the panel, Noguera reflected on how “climate change manifests itself differently in different communities,” from environmental degradation to asthma to higher rates of pollution, which requires precision about which aspects of the environment are a focus in which communities.

Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
Page 18
Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
Page 19
Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27332.
×
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Young people often engage and lead efforts to improve the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence the health and equity of communities and the nation. The National Academies Roundtable on Population Health Improvement hosted a hybrid public workshop in September 2023 at The California Endowment Center for Healthy Communities in Oakland, California to discuss the power of youth leadership in creating conditions for health and equity and the civic infrastructure and resources that support youth participation and leadership in change efforts.

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