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Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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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3

Child Development and Family and Community Context

Sheri Johnson, the director of the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, moderated the second panel. She mentioned her role as a mother of two young men and said she was touched by Córdova’s statements about how injustice experienced as a child can inspire and motivate further action. Johnson stated that with this panel she aimed “to [continue] to integrate our own personal stories and experiences with the work that we do” with an inclusion of knowledge gained from both research and practice. She described the topic of the panel as the assets of adolescent and young adult development, and how understanding the context of development shapes our thinking around civic engagement, health, and health equity.

Johnson said the poet Jose Cordon’s mention of “knuckleheads” epitomized how the strengths and assets of youth development are often missed due to people in power pathologizing their development. She said that this session’s panel would try to integrate this perspective with an understanding of systems, structures, their enhancing or inhibiting effects on youth development, and how to remove the barriers and amplify the assets to improve engagement and action.

Johnson then introduced the panelists: Dipesh Navsaria, a clinical associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Human Ecology; George Galvis, the cofounder and executive director of Community United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ); Alex Toris, a cultural activist at CURYJ; Abigail Robinson, the cofounder and lead teacher at Algoma Venture

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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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Academy; and Cristina Flores, the program coordinator for CURYJ. Highlights from the panel are provided in Box 3-1.

ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT

Navsaria began the conversation by saying that for humans, adolescence is not solely biological. He discussed the different elements involved in maturation, such as physical changes, sexual development, brain devel-

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

opment, and how individuals view themselves or are viewed by others. He further detailed how there are cultural variations to adolescence and when it begins as well as how these perceptions “can change dramatically when people move between cultural spaces, different countries . . . in different ways.” He also described how one’s surroundings affect maturation and reiterated the previous panel’s comments on “what type of youth are required . . . to become adults sooner, are required to spend time working, are required to take on more responsibility, and so on.”

Navsaria then addressed brain changes in adolescence, describing how imaging has shown that the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that controls executive functioning—such as reasoning, thinking things through, and considering long-term consequences—is “less well connected to the rest of the brain” during adolescence. He mentioned how people see this as a simple answer for “why adolescents are so impulsive,” and he questioned, from an evolutionary standpoint, why brain changes should follow such a pattern.

Navsaria reiterated that adolescence is not exclusively shaped by biological processes and that surroundings need to be considered. He spoke about his experience in the medical field as a pediatrician, where these details are pathologized through “deficits-based models” focused on things such as adversity. He then contrasted these ideas with the focus of the panel, considering the strengths and opportunities that come with diverse adolescent experiences. The current paradigm of adolescence is based in part on research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their effects, adding that “but now, we’re also starting to talk about positive childhood experiences.” He asked, “Why aren’t we talking about [positive childhood experiences] as not just something that counters ACEs, but something that actually can overwhelm those ACEs, those adverse experiences, and actually build those strengths?”

Navsaria further discussed work exploring the differences in outcomes between someone who has experienced both adversity and positive childhood experiences and someone with very few of both. He said that the person who has “good positive childhood experiences” despite the accompanying adversity is likely to have “better resilience” and “better long-term frames.” He then spoke about his experience as a staff pediatrician in a county juvenile detention facility where the population largely has “unopposed adverse experiences, and very few of those positive childhood experiences.” He noted that one thing that makes a big difference is the social connections that these young people have in their family units and neighborhoods. He then clarified that in his following comments he would regularly refer to “parents,” but that this term would be inclusive of “any kind of caregiver or positive role model” present in a young person’s life.

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

Navsaria began his comments on the influence of parents in a young person’s life by stating that in ideal circumstances, they should be involved in a youth’s life to provide connections and guidance. He concluded this line of thought by saying that while this discussion is concerned with ensuring that young people are adequately supported and equipped with helpful skills and approaches, there is also a need to ensure “we are not being so involved that there’s no chance to develop those skills and so on.”

Navsaria further discussed the writings of clinical psychologist Lisa Damour who discusses the concept of potted plant parenting, which underscores the importance of a parent being present and the connection that develops, even if there is no active interaction occurring (Damour, 2016). In addition, he explained that while surveys have shown that parents believe that young people prioritize the guidance of their peers or other individuals, surveys of young people have shown that they often see their parents as the biggest influence in their lives. He then introduced the concept of “relational health,” which refers to “the health of relationships around individual people and around communities” and the capacity of people, families, and communities to connect with and support one another in safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. He emphasized that this concept is seen throughout the life course and that “measuring the relational health and doing what we can to make sure those relational connections don’t fracture is absolutely important in different ways” when considering each stage of life.

Navsaria’s next point was that adults need to reframe how they view youth in line with the discussion of the prior panel, although he recognized that “this is a challenge . . . in the parenting and caregiving space” since “there are a lot of parents who are pretty good parents of young children and have a really hard time making that translation, that connection over to the teen, to the adult, to the young adult.”

Navsaria continued by discussing how young children develop abstract thinking and the important role that adults can have in helping children to understand the world around them as they transition into adolescence. As an example, Navsaria told the story of how he assisted with arranging a service project to serve food at a homeless shelter, and while all the logistical elements of transportation and assigning tasks were occurring, he realized that there was no component focused on helping children understand why homelessness exists. Navsaria posed this question to the group and said that the discussion had some positives as it helped young people “make sense of the world around them.”

The next concept Navsaria discussed was “intentional skill building,” which he noted is a concept regularly used in parenting programs for young children. He used his work in early literacy and the activity of

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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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shared book reading to demonstrate the concept. Navsaria said that the best practices for reading a book to a young child are “not necessarily obvious to all parents based on their prior experiences,” as expectations for the child to listen and to participate in the activity need to be tailored to specific ages and developmental timeframes. He explained that intentional skill building can be used to help parents understand how to read to a young child, and that it could also be used to help adults and caregivers build skills in their broader family units.

Navsaria then underscored the value of home visiting but noted that the services taper out when a child is about 5 years old. He said that while there is therapy and the criminal justice system for older youth, “that’s not a very affirming, positive, strengths-based approach.”

Navsaria said that practitioners should recognize the models that have worked well, scale these models to be age appropriate, and do more in early childhood. He also said that adults should try to “back off a little bit” and be present for support when needed but allow youth to be leaders and show what they learn. He concluded by saying that the environment and surroundings make a difference for both youth and adults alike.

INSIGHTS FROM THE WORK OF CURYJ

The next speakers were from the organization CURYJ, led by Galvis. He began his remarks by recognizing that “it’s important for us to think about things comparatively from a sociohistorical context.” Galvis continued by asking the audience to “use your imaginations and . . . rewind back into time to 1492.” He discussed the colonization of the North American continent by European leaders, describing it as “a clash between two irreconcilable world views” that was driven by “the three Gs: greed, gold, and genocide.” Galvis then connected this ideology to the modern day “capitalist mantra of maximize profits, minimize expenditures.” He contrasted this with “the Indigenous world view of being interconnected and interdependent.”

Galvis continued by sharing Lakota and Mayan expressions that both translate to “you are a reflection of me, and I am a reflection of you.” He reiterated the concept of interconnectedness and interdependence and recognized it as something disrupted by colonialism. He further noted that present-day discussion and efforts around restorative justice, transformative practices, and intersectionality are not new concepts. Rather, they are reflective of an understanding that “we’re all connected” and the Indigenous worldview “that everybody is sacred, from the time of their birth, they are . . . a blessing and they have a sacred purpose.”

Galvis briefly spoke about his belief that adverse childhood experience scores can lead to problems because they “pathologize young

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

people,” which leads to “false dichotomies” and “otherization.” He said that this is where the adults involved, such as professionals, community members, and relatives, need to “shift the paradigm . . . to just embrace and remind a young person that they’re a blessing.”

Galvis then described a guiding philosophy for his organization, CURYJ, which is that “those of us that have overcome the challenges that young people are confronted with, are the ones that are also best equipped to reach them with a realistic message about the consequences of certain kinds of behavior to help them make life-affirming decisions.” At the same time, he also shared an example that stands in contrast to this philosophy, a “grey haired old white dude who grew up in an upper middle-class background named Father Greg Boyle,” who is still “one of the most effective violence interrupters.” Galvis suggested that despite Father Greg Boyle’s inability to relate to the young people around him based on lived experience, he is effective “because he loves them . . . he reminds them that they’re sacred, he reminds them that they’re a blessing.”

Galvis then introduced the concepts of post-colonial stress disorder and the related post-enslavement stress syndrome, which are ways to refer to “historical intergenerational trauma” that affects people of color “by virtue of who we are.” In the Indigenous context, he said, “Native science is waiting for Western science to basically catch up,” as this has been described in Native cultures as “bone memory” or “DNA memory.” He discussed how Western science has confirmed that traumatic experiences can continue to affect future generations, which he connected to the Native concept of “seventh generations.” Galvis stated that in his work with young people, “we talk about being good ancestors.” He also warned against the risk of pathologizing people excessively when acknowledging these concepts. Thus, he said, “It’s really important to acknowledge that we also have a historical, intergenerational wisdom. We have a historical, intergenerational culture. And we have historical, intergenerational healing.”

Galvis emphasized the importance of resilience and said that, as reflected in the title of his presentation, the goal should be to “move beyond resilience” and “get to resistance.” He said that the focus should be on dismantling oppressive forces that have been seen historically across generations and noted that many current issues—including prisons and policing—have their origins in systems of oppression and are “systems that are basically designed to maintain white supremacy and maintain the subordination of Black and Indigenous people of color.” He said that in the United States, “the very first prisons were the slave plantation and the reservation.” He described how if a person of Indigenous descent left a reservation or a person of African descent escaped a plantation, that person would be hunted, brutalized, and possibly killed by a slave patrol

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

or cavalry. He further explained how this was the start to the structure of the police in the United States; he disagreed with the idea of reforming this system and instead said it must be dismantled. He stated that “we have to come up with different systems that actually are rooted in providing healing in our communities.”

Next, Galvis spoke about the information and data he used to support these concepts, noting that he wanted to focus on “humanizing the data” rather than reviewing every detail. At this point, he asked his fellow panel members, Cristina Flores and Alex Toris, who are both young leaders representing CURYJ, to introduce themselves and share their background.

Flores detailed her experience with CURYJ, which she joined the summer after her junior year of high school as a way to achieve academic credits to graduate on time. She spoke about how she emailed multiple individuals at CURYJ about a volunteering opportunity or internship to help her get the credits she needed and how she eventually received one response about the Homies 4 Justice summer internship with an invitation to come in for an interview. She then discovered that the organization was only 2 minutes from her mother’s house and described how, as she was walking to her interview, she was struck by the fact that “this was in [her] neighborhood the whole time” and was a place she could have gone to “instead of going to the homies’ house, instead of going to the park” had she known about it. Flores mentioned feeling intimidated at first because there were multiple people interviewing her, but she said that the ambiance of the location along with her experiences with supportive mentors and elders in the past made her comfortable. She told how after she completed the internship, she rejoined Homies 4 Justice as a program associate and, later, became the program coordinator. She spoke about how she has come full circle to “now leading and supporting my comrades in this space” and how she finds it “surreal” that the place she went to for a summer internship because she needed to graduate has become “my space . . . where I have been able to create, to learn, to unlearn.”

She spoke about her experience as a young person from Oakland and the effects of the built environment around her. She described Oakland as a “concrete jungle” and said she recognized that “everything that we’re around, like our environment, has an impact on us.” She added that one’s upbringing influences one’s reaction to things and one’s approach to conversations or spaces and that this is a realization that “hits home” as a coordinator “being in this space with my young people,” which has inspired her to continue her work in youth engagement. She acknowledged that before she became involved in CURYJ, “I wasn’t a very loud young person, or I wasn’t always up in the space.” She said that because of her experience, she has tried to convey to the young people involved in her program the “privilege in this environment [of] having elders and

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

role models . . . in your corner,” which she acknowledged is unfortunately not something everyone has access to, even though they deserve it too.

The program Homies 4 Justice, Flores said, “is a system impact in formerly incarcerated space for our young people really interested in community organizing, policy, what’s going on in environments, how can we improve our environments, beautify it.” She explained that in her program coordinator role she has worked to ensure that the program is a safe space for young people “so that when they step into space, they’re not scared to speak on what’s going on.” She elaborated that this is important since she regularly encounters young people who have experienced police violence and injustice within the immigration system. She then discussed how in her experience, it is normalized for her and other young people that they “just got to tuck in and keep pushing” when experiencing extreme hardship and injustice in their own communities. She said that her program is the space for young people in the community to speak about how these harmful experiences should not be normalized.

She underscored the importance of her and others from the community their organization serves—people who are “very much in these spaces”—playing a role in nurturing the young people in the community, using the metaphor of plantitas being currently grown in the organization’s garden. She said that due to the “concrete jungle” nature of her community, there is no environment available for young people to “just go, sit, and play in the dirt.” She emphasized this point by saying that very few young people in her community have access to a garden. She noted how this type of environment forces young people “to grow up really fast” and then reflected on how she has recognized different behavior patterns in herself that can be linked back to this environment. She also reflected on how working in “this space has also allowed me to learn and to unlearn and to really share that with my young people.”

Flores concluded her remarks by referring to a saying about how humans are like apples and that the changes an apple goes through as it grows are similar to the changes humans experience as they learn and gain more wisdom. And, she continued, if an apple stops growing, it will rot; similarly, when humans believe they are done learning, “it’s like [they are] just going to die off.” She emphasized the importance of understanding that “because we are all students of life, we’re all learning,” noting that young people often experience imposter syndrome despite having valid stories and experiences to share.

Next, Toris shared his lived experience of growing up and living in East Oakland along with being formerly incarcerated, and he spoke about his experience as a cultural activist at CURYJ. He said his role at the organization has focused on supporting numerous programs, including Flores’s program, Homies 4 Justice, along with a fellowship for young

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

adults called Dream Beyond Bars, young and adult life coaching, and community organizing.

Toris began by discussing one of his most meaningful roles in this position, which is providing support and resources when there are violent incidents and resulting tragic losses in the community. He asked the audience to imagine a single parent, working multiple jobs to support his or her family, who loses a child to gun violence. He noted that in addition to life being torn apart by the tragedy, the family’s financial situation is upended since the working parent is not afforded any time to grieve due to the nature of his or her employment. Toris described how CURYJ has a system of rapid response funds to ensure that families receive financial support for rent, groceries, and other such expenses during times of tragedy. He also gave an example of his plan to connect with a mother later today to help her pay for funeral clothes for herself and her son. He emphasized that this monetary support for “little things” is “so meaningful to the families.”

Having only begun his work at CURYJ as an adult, Toris described Flores’s experience at CURYJ beginning in high school as “a huge blessing.” Toris said he has been on staff for a year after 2 years of volunteering and becoming familiar with the organization’s functions and achievements. He said he has appreciated the ability of the organization to guide young people. Toris discussed his background as someone formerly incarcerated and as someone who received little guidance “in navigating in the systems that we live in here in the town.” He said that if he had been involved in an organization like CURYJ as a young person, that experience could have led to better decision making on his part and him finding his voice sooner, and it also could have “started to heal a lot of that trauma, a lot of that hurt I was carrying.” He concluded by saying that with his lived experience and now his role at CURYJ, “I’m trying to make all the time I have left here meaningful and impactful in my community.”

Galvis then took the floor again and described his experience as cofounder of CURYJ, which stands for Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (and pronounced “courage”).1 He said he has the “distinct privilege of working with young people with very similar lived experiences” to his own. He detailed how violence present throughout his childhood caused him to “reproduce [violence] on the streets against young men who look[ed] like me” and how these violent acts resulted in his arrest and incarceration for multiple felonies when he was 17. Galvis said CURYJ aims to provide opportunities to “young people who have been there, done that,” otherwise known as “BTDTs,” through a “strength-based approach to our lived experiences.” He said that having

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1 See curyj.org (accessed September 18, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

lived experience is important in the organization since it equips staff to assist young people with similar lived experience in “making . . . life-affirming decisions.” He also spoke about the importance of “elevating the voice and power of young people.” He then detailed the organization’s “framework of four stages,” which is practiced within the programs Homies 4 Justice and Dream Beyond Bars. The first phase, he said, is “reconocimiento,” which is “just acknowledgment,” where young people “really begin to build rapport with each other, build connection with each other, build trust with each other.” He acknowledged that this period of time can reopen old wounds in young people and said the organization is careful to provide opportunities for healing.

The second phase of the framework, Galvis said, is “entendimiento,” or understanding. He explained that this phase is about processing the external factors of the young person’s experience, such as “political education, external forces, [and] history.” He emphasized the latter point by saying “you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.” He remarked how “there’s something cathartic” for the young people they work with during this phase since the education in this phase has helped the young people understand their experiences through the lens of “these systems of oppression.” Before this education, many young people have only received an education where “there’s always this sort of push of like personal responsibility.”

Galvis said the third phase of the framework is “integration,” which is focused on “integrat[ing] what we’ve been learning . . . beginning to self-actualize and make changes.” He reiterated that the framework’s overall goal is “to facilitate learning, growing, and healing.”

The fourth stage of the framework is “movement,” Galvis said, and he described this phase of the framework as a time of catharsis to “find your voice and power” and “know that you can impact and create policy and systems change based on the same systems that harmed you” and learn how “we sometimes replace those systems with opportunities for young people to grow and thrive.” Galvis said he would skip the four laws of change for the sake of time, but he encouraged the audience to research this concept as it is part of CURYJ’s framework.

Galvis said that CURYJ’s mission is to “unlock the leadership of young people to dream beyond bars,” and he offered further details on the history of the organization, which was “born out of the [Fruitvale] gang injunction . . . in Oakland nearly 12 years ago.” The cofounders of CURYJ were defendants in this case, he said, and an important organizational value at CURYJ is recognizing the leadership of those that are directly affected. He continued by stating that organizing in this time period was focused on both fighting against the gang injunction zones and fighting for “youth empowerment zones to take a strength-based

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.” He discussed how the organization now uses the term “power zone” rather than “empowerment zone” to better illustrate the organization’s goals, and he suggested that the audience “look up the difference between empowerment and power, and you’ll see why.”2 He added that the power zone was named for Oscar Grant, a 22-year old Black man who was brutally killed by a police officer in Oakland at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station in 2009.3 Galvis further detailed the plans to honor the legacy of Oscar Grant by naming more spaces in the community in his honor. He said the Oscar Grant Youth Power Zone “is going to be the alternative for youth incarceration in Alameda County.” He said that this is an example of “holding people accountable with love” and creating a community where young people can “heal, grow, and thrive.”

Galvis gave further details on the issue of youth incarceration in Alameda, which spends approximately $32 million a year to incarcerate youth, which translates to $670,000 per year per youth incarcerated. He said CURYJ aims “to prove the absolute efficacy of our project” and “to fundamentally change the life trajectory of these young people.” Galvis concluded by stating that “we’re going to actually improve public safety by addressing root causes, because trying to . . . police your way into public safety is an oxymoron,” and moreover that they are going to achieve this goal with a significantly lower expenditure than youth incarceration.

INSIGHTS FROM A COMMUNITY-GROUNDED EDUCATOR

In introducing Abigail Robinson, Johnson said that Robinson would be speaking about making change “in a different type of setting” compared with CURYJ’s setting in Oakland. Robinson said that she is from the small rural community of Algoma, Wisconsin. She added that she recently cofounded a charter school with someone who empowered her as a youth. Robinson gave a brief description of the pathway that led to her cofounding that school. She discussed how in 2016 she researched the socioemotional health of elementary school students as an assignment for her sophomore English class. She said, “the results of the survey were really alarming” and that even after the assignment was complete for the class, she “wasn’t comfortable with ending it there.” Robinson described how she presented the data to the school administration with the suggestion that a “cross-age mentoring program” be started. She said that the school administration agreed to support her in starting that program and

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2 The distinction being made is between empowerment, which means giving power to someone, such as youth, and enabling them to tap into the power they already have.

3 See https://curyj.org/ogypz/; https://oscargrantfoundation.org/shooting-oscar-grant/ (accessed September 7, 2023).

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

that she was fortunate because the school district and community were “already involved in creating an infrastructure to support youth . . . called Live Algoma,4 which is a community initiative for health and well-being.”

Robinson then introduced the staff member whose job “was to engage youth and engage in the community using the school as a hub,” Teal VanLanen, who was present at the workshop. Robinson said that together they developed a “youth-led cross-age mentorship program” between high school and elementary school students in order to build relationships and better develop socioemotional well-being. Robinson said that the program helped both the elementary school students and the high school students because mentoring helped “the teens . . . develop a sense of purpose.” Robinson continued by detailing how the success of the mentorship program led to the development of a youth-led afterschool program “to further support the elementary school students” and establish “a culture of care” for them.

One initiative of the afterschool program, Robinson continued, invited the community to donate dinners and to join the students for these dinners. While the initial intention was to address food insecurity, Robinson said that this initiative was “transformational” because “we were creating an opportunity for the community members to hear the voices of the youth that were written off as bad kids, and through sharing those stories the community members were changing the narrative around youth in the community all together.” Robinson then detailed how this then led to other initiatives such as a weekend backpack program and a pen pal program, creating a “culture of care that went beyond the afterschool program and went out into the community as well.” She said that she sees the program as successful “especially in regard to youth’s social and emotional development” for both elementary and high school students and also community members. She suggested that the program has contributed to “generating intergenerational well-being in the community.”

Robinson then said that she saw the “biggest barrier” to the programs’ outcomes as being the education system. She explained that these programs (mentorship, weekend backpack, and afterschool) still “remain on the periphery” and that students still lacked the socioemotional support they needed during the school day. Robinson noted that despite the school district being innovative, informing the education system about the benefits of these programs “was really challenging.” During the COVID-19 pandemic the student experience “really shined a light on the need for more mental health care and treating the students holistically.

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4 See https://www.communitycommons.org/collections/Live-Healthy-Live-Well-Live-Algoma (accessed January 18, 2024).

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

She shared that a survey of students and teachers throughout the United States regarding the function of schools post-pandemic, found that the three main themes were “healing, community, and humanity.”

Robinson then described the mission of her charter school, Algoma Venture Academy,5 a public 7th through 12th grade charter school that focuses “on academic but also social and emotional development of students through youth engagement, through youth leadership and youth organizing.” She said that the focus of the school is “relationship building,” both between students and teachers—through authentic engagements with youth about their life and not just school—as well as between students and “different stakeholders, employers, experts” with the goal of creating “a connection or an interconnectivity network.” She said their grading system uses descriptors such as “developing, proficient, or advanced” rather than traditional letter grades and prioritizes feedback “so that students are engaging in risk taking and learning from those mistakes.” She added that she believes teachers and advisors should “provide . . . consistent support to help students engage in the community instead of just having one-off . . . efforts” and that the goal of the school is to see “the student for who they are as a human.”

The school has just started its second year, and Robinson said that while its programming is still a work in progress, the school leadership has observed student growth, including students saying “they’re comfortable with being uncomfortable.” She underscored the importance of students “building awareness of themselves and how they impact others, and the experiences of others.”

Robinson concluded her remarks by saying that her new school is not an end goal in itself, but a milestone in an ongoing “push on the education system” to inform policy and to demonstrate what is possible when engaging young people, such as herself, in the process.

PANEL DISCUSSION

Johnson acknowledged the common theme of relationships and healing that can lead to change in systems and structures. She then invited the panelists to reflect on remarks from others that really resonated with them.

Toris spoke first and commended Robinson’s program for providing youth with an uncommon and supportive opportunity. He spoke about how many young people, himself included, are labeled unteachable and enrolled in schools that are extremely underfunded with first-year teachers who may not care about being there and may be solely focused on serving “a year or two to earn their stripes.” He said some schools are

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5 See https://www.algomaventureacademy.org/ (accessed September 18, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

not preparing students for life and although students are required to be in school some schools lack the support necessary. He commented on the harm done to students when there is no one present “who is there to make sure that we’re learning, who is there to make sure that we’re all right” and said he appreciates schools that prioritize students.

Robinson said she identified a common theme in the remarks of the CURYJ speakers, which was in-school experiences. She recognized the importance of the opportunity of having youth speakers on the panel since “youth organizing is education” and lamented the fact that the education system does not recognize that. She added that she sees the current education system as “stifling youth voice, youth empowerment”—a state of affairs that needs to be changed.

Navsaria remarked that trust seemed to be another common thread—trust at the interpersonal, community, and at the societal level. He said that trust or a lack of trust is associated with biases, experiences, obstacles, and opportunities and added that trust cannot be built or repaired easily or quickly but rather is “lifelong work” necessary to reform systems.

Reflecting on her own relationship with schooling, Flores said that there is a difference between school and education. She underscored the connection between environment and trust and explained that growing up in an unstable environment can influence young people like herself to have difficulty trusting themselves. She said that in her family and in the Chicano community, when people are unable to advocate for themselves due to lack of trust or inability to cope, that may be viewed in a negative light. She spoke about her own difficulty in school and how it was exacerbated by not having “that relationship with [her] parents to let them know ‘Like, hey, I’m struggling.’” She recognized that this mindset led her to unhealthy coping habits. She concluded by saying that she hopes that educational approaches similar to the ones described earlier can be implemented in Oakland because “Black, brown, and Indigenous babies deserve to have access to all these resources that unfortunately have not been there, have not been presented to us.”

Galvis reflected on commonalities between the ideas Robinson shared and the values that drive the work of CURYJ. He mentioned Robinson’s school’s use of feedback rather than a traditional grading system and connected this with CURYJ’s approach to thinking about “learning [as] a constant thing that’s always taking place.” It is important to always be learners and to recognize “that every single one of us is a student, and every single one of us is also a teacher.” He noted the value of “that kind of collective learning, growing, and healing process.” Galvis concluded with the three values of CURYJ: cultural awareness, community involvement (i.e., activism), and higher education, and added that higher education is not necessarily attendance at a university, but a lifelong process.

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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.
×

DISCUSSION

Responding to an audience question about the relationship between the community and law enforcement, Galvis said that the police have historically constituted a supermajority of the budget in Oakland, which is “a reflection of our values.” He continued by stating “the safest communities don’t have the most police, they have the most resources.”

Galvis said that there is substantial “vicarious trauma that people on the front lines, whether they be teachers, violence interrupters, community workers, and organizers, can absorb” and that healthy outlets need to be found for these people “to release that trauma, to be able to also consistently heal.” Galvis discussed the “very intentional healing space” held by CURYJ on a regular basis as a method to support their staff, independent of the broader community. He also discussed his frustration with the disparities in pay and benefits between people working on the front lines and intermediary organizations and funding organizations.

Galvis added that changing systems that are oppressive is a long process but said that CURYJ has taken small steps as a nonprofit organization to appropriately support its staff, including by increasing salaries and benefits. The organization’s goal is to “hold the bar up and the standard better and hold our funders accountable.” He remarked on the excellent benefits of the city’s department of violence prevention and the California Endowment, saying, “Let’s hold up the same standard . . . for grantees and for our staff.”

Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 27
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 28
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 29
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 30
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 31
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 32
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 33
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 34
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 35
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 36
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 37
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 38
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 39
Suggested Citation:"3 Child Development and Family and Community Context." 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 40
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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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