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Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity: Proceedings of a Workshop (2024)

Chapter: 5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement

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Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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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5

Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement

Jacqueline Garcel moderated the workshop’s next discussion. Garcel, the chief executive officer of the Latino Community Foundation, said that the foundation centers its work around “unleashing the civic and economic power of Latinos here in California,” that it includes young people both on their staff and among the organizations they fund, and that it focuses on the lived experience and voices of young people. “This stuff is hard,” she said, “and young people remind us of that every single day to center hope and joy because we get beat down sometimes, so we have to keep coming up, reminding ourselves of the why we are here.” She then asked the panelists to introduce themselves and to discuss why they chose to work in youth leadership and engagement. “Oftentimes we do not choose this work,” she said. “The work chooses us. But when we do the work, we find our true purpose and calling.” Highlights from the panel are provided in Box 5-1.

PANELIST INTRODUCTIONS

Jasmine Dellafosse introduced herself first. Stating that she is from Stockton, California, she acknowledged that the Yokuts and the Miwok peoples are two of the tribes indigenous to the Central Valley and northern California, and she emphasized that it is important to her to acknowledge this fact when she speaks in this space. She gave further detail on her family’s experience immigrating from American Samoa and Independent Samoa in the 1970s to San Francisco and East Palo Alto, saying that

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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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her grandmother was “one of the first Samoan homeowners and built the community of the Samoan population in East Palo Alto.”

Dellafosse then explained her purpose in her community organizing work and that it draws on the experience of her ancestors enduring and overcoming hardships. She added that she never thought that a young Samoan girl from the City of South Stockton from immigrant parents and grandparents would have the opportunities she has had.

Furthermore, Dellafosse spoke about what it means to lead from behind and invoked the Samoan proverb “O le ala i le pule o le tautua,” which means “The road to leadership is through service.” She connected this sentiment to the workshop’s discussions on health and education and said that acts of service have been a common theme throughout the day. To conclude, she said, “There is a land for each and every one of us

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

here if we take the opportunity to really understand what that looks like.” Dellafosse added that she has worked as a community organizer since she was 17, a choice informed by her family background.

Ross spoke next. He shared that Dellafosse had previously served as a member of the California Endowment President’s Youth Council. Garcel asked Ross to speak about his choice to focus the Endowment’s community work on power building and to explain why he saw importance in his “legacy of centering young people and centering power building.” Ross answered the question in two parts. First, he said that in fitting his work into the social and political landscape of the United States, “facts are important, but context is everything.” He said that in the current landscape the most important leadership role in the United States is grassroots community organizer, and youth organizers are a crucial subset.

His second point related to the work completed by his colleague, Anthony Iton, the senior vice president of the California Endowment, who was “one of the co-master minds of our building out the communities’ work” from 2010 to 2020. Ross said that at the beginning of the decade-long community building process, he and Iton intended to complete “a front assault on the social determinants of health at the community level and with some emphasis around young lives and addressing the social determinants of young lives in disenfranchised, disempowered, ignored and forgotten communities” across California.

Two things strongly affected his thinking during this process, Ross said. The first occurred at a community site meeting in Fresno, California, around 2010. During an open conversation with young leaders, Ross’s colleagues asked them what they most wanted change in order to have a healthier community. Ross said that, as a pediatrician, he expected to hear an answer like asthma or something similar. Instead, the young leaders said that they wanted to get rid of school suspensions. While this may not be a health issue explicitly, he said, the young people explained that this was a priority because “harsh school policies were criminalizing young people and particularly young people of color at a very early age.”

Ross referred to Williams’s point from earlier in the workshop about how similar goals, such as defunding the police, were limited due to the political landscape in certain timeframes and said that these policies were a priority to these young leaders even as early as 2010. Ross explained that when the California Endowment completed further research following this recommendation, the data indicated “there had been an epidemic of school suspensions over the previous 10-year period in every state across the country, all disproportionately impacting young people of color.” He said that the California Endowment began focusing on this issue through its support and investments and that the staff began to hear about this issue from all corners of the state of California.

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

The second item that affected Ross’s thought process occurred during a site visit to a youth-led grassroots organization that involved formerly incarcerated young people from the South Los Angeles juvenile justice system. Ross referred to Galvis’s work, which had been highlighted earlier in the workshop during the panel “Child Development and Family and Community Context.” Ross said that it was during this conversation with young people at this organization that he first heard the concept that the goal of juvenile justice reform should be the closure of youth prisons. He noted this was in contrast to his work at the California Endowment up until that point, which focused on supporting mental health services in youth prisons. He said this was the first time he heard “No, no, no, you got it wrong, kids should not even be locked up,” and that these young people told him, “It is nice that you are giving a grant to somebody to provide mental health services in a locked facility, but they should not even be in a locked facility in the first place . . . . We need to work to get these folks back into the community.” Ross added that closing youth prisons is a more accepted goal today than it was in the decade previous.

In conclusion, Ross emphasized that these kinds of “youth-centered, youth-driven, narrative-changing, mind-altering policy suggestions” come from “hav[ing] young people in your space, not occasionally on a side visit every now and then, but in your head.” He added that these anecdotes were what “led me to becoming a convert around youth engagement in the context of the power building that this nation needs.”

Next, Garcel invited Kiana Yabut to speak on what is driving and inspiring her to focus on the work she is leading in Guam. Yabut introduced herself as a 21-year-old student in college and a representative from the Guam Youth Congress. The Guam Youth Congress, she explained, is a law-making body made up of people between the ages of 14 and 23 who function similarly to lawmakers in the sense that they meet and write bills, which are passed on to Guam’s Congress and have the potential to become public law. As an example, she said that she had “co-sponsored a bill, co-wrote a bill that mandated free period products to all public-school students,” which then passed in the legislature and became public law. She acknowledged that “It is really cool to say that a 21-year-old who had not finished college yet wrote a public law.”

Yabut then reflected on why she has participated in this work, which she attributed to being from Guam, a U.S. territory, where “we are . . . stuck in an era of . . . our government being run by the same old people.” She said that youth representation has increased due to the advocacy of the Guam Youth Congress, but that it still takes effort for the Youth Congress to be taken seriously as a law-making body due to the ages of the participants. Yabut added that she has participated in this work to ensure that young people like her, including those who are even younger,

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

“get their shot to speak at the table and to have their voice taken seriously and into consideration.”

Garcel thanked Yabut for her remarks and invited Adrianna Zhang to introduce herself. Zhang introduced herself as a rising freshman at Stanford University who is 17 years old. She said she was born in San Francisco, which she noted is acknowledged to be Ohlone Ramaytush land. Zhang discussed her experience in youth civic engagement and advocacy and highlighted her time as the chair of the San Francisco Youth Commission, where “we write policies, and we start campaigns that we believe are reflective of young people’s priorities.” She referred to Ross’s earlier comments regarding the closure of youth prisons because one of the previous successful campaigns of the San Francisco Youth Commission was the closure of San Francisco Juvenile Hall. Zhang described additional accomplishments during her term on the San Francisco Youth Commission, including advocating for free public transportation for youth to be included in the city budget, which is now funded as a 2-year pilot program, as well as working on campaigns such as Vote 161 and education equity efforts.

Zhang also discussed her nationwide nonprofit, SF Change.2 She said that her younger sister, who is 7 years old, is one of her strongest motivators for her participation in politics and activism. When she was 7, Zhang said, the representation of women of color, especially Chinese women, was limited in government, especially regarding the issues that Zhang has worked on. She recognized the importance of acting as an inspiration for younger generations so that activism and advocacy are seen as options. Additionally, Zhang said, “I am not afraid of hearing no because I have heard it so many times.” While public officials may bristle at demands for free public transportation and the like, Zhang said that she is willing to fight and to advocate for her community, which drives her participation in youth civic engagement. She concluded by saying, “If not me, then who else? That is why I am here.”

DISCUSSION

Dellafosse began the discussion by highlighting the work of the California Endowment and the President’s Youth Council, which is hosted under the Office of the CEO and is a group that she has participated in. She said that there is dedicated staff to support the President’s Youth Council and to support their efforts as they meet regionally in communities across California. Dellafosse also mentioned her previous work

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1 See https://www.vote16sf.com/ (accessed September 18, 2022).

2 See https://sfchange.org/ (accessed September 18, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

as “part of organizing for school districts to implement a youth-voting board member,” a policy that was approved by the school board in the city of Stockton. However, she said she recognized the limitations of this success, noting the youth-voting board members do not have the same level of power as other school board members and saying that youth members “are not allowed to sit in closed board meeting sessions even though . . . those are the most important conversations that are happening about schools.”

Dellafosse also discussed the “many different efforts around how councils and boards and commissions are created and developed,” describing research conducted by the California Endowment that has shown the limited number of philanthropic groups and foundations that have taken the initiative to center youth voices. She emphasized that “we have also really centered . . . talking about the ladders of engagement with the endowment,” which included discussions on best practices for youth participation in the council and how they would avoid common issues such as situations where “young people are tokenized in spaces” and where young people’s stories are used for the benefit of lawmakers but not for the benefit of the youth. She spoke about their efforts to determine how to “meaningfully engage with young people in a way that youth are actually valued for their knowledge and wisdom and experience that they have” rather than engaging youth in a limited way “because we want to check a box” and ultimately excluding youth from the outcome of the process. Dellafosse concluded by saying that the current demand to include a youth member on one of the boards at the California Endowment, is “the next step around youth engagement and continuing to meet the mark around young people actually having access to decision making in places of power.”

Garcel continued the conversation and invited Ross to speak further on his inclusion of young people as council members and how to structure it in a way that levels the playing field of youth and adult voices. In framing his question, Garcel referred to the spoken word poet from earlier in the workshop who suggested, “Let us not just bring young people [and] let them become the junior version of whatever adult version council exists.” Additionally, Garcel asked Ross to discuss how the inclusion of youth voices is “woven into [the California Endowment] DNA” to ensure that these efforts are not “just a one-term thing.”

Ross began his response by acknowledging that the concepts that he would discuss arose from engagement with the endowment’s Youth Council. With respect to the first question, he said that there is not a young person on the board yet, “but the board has embraced moving forward with shifting from just merely advisory to governance” in regard to the valuation of youth voices. “The California Endowment [will] bring

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

a young person on the board of directors within the next year or two,” he asserted. He acknowledged that for advocates involved with the California Endowment, like Dellafosse, the inclusion of a youth member on the board of directors has been a long time coming.

In response to Garcel’s second question, Ross said that the formation of the President’s Youth Council was a personal choice to include young people in the foundation. He said that being in a foundation is “rare air” and being a foundation president is even more so “a bubble,” making it especially important “to be proximate to the pain . . . to the injustice,” a sentiment he attributed to Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative,3 who discusses “the importance of being proximate” in the book and movie, Just Mercy. Ross acknowledged how working in a foundation can distance one from the communities the foundation is trying to improve despite efforts such as site visits. He said that he wanted “this space where I did not have a bunch of memos and a whole bunch of staff standing in between me and the young people filtering [things] out.”

Ross discussed having conversations with youth council members with the goal of building a genuine rapport before “we get more into the business of the agenda.” These meetings were important to Ross, he said, “because those young people were reporting to me stuff that was happening to them in real time in their neighborhood and in their communities and their families. An uncle got deported. A cousin got shot. One of the young people who came out as openly queer with their family got kicked out.” Ross reflected on how these conversations were transformative for the organization because “if you are going to invest in organizing in power building, you have to understand how much trauma and pain people are dealing with day in and day out, hourly.”

Ross concluded his answer by saying that in building infrastructure for youth civic engagement, “the infrastructure has to include space for healing.” He emphasized this point as part of the California Endowment grant-making strategy, where a focus on power, healing, and justice is highly valued. Finally, he said that strengthening youth engagement efforts would be ongoing and that the California Endowment is working toward the future. Ross added that these efforts are “both illuminating and incredibly humbling at the same time.”

Speaking from the audience, Hanh Yu noted that Ross’s prior comments anticipated and answered her question about how to institutionalize the inclusion of youth voices in decision making, pointing to “the commitment to deep, authentic relationship” as the answer. Yu referred to Chang’s statements in the previous panel regarding how centering youth voices must be an expectation, and she said that this type of effort “is

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3 See https://justmercy.eji.org/ (accessed September 18, 2022).

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

dependent upon the commitment of the leaders or the governing board.” She also acknowledged Ross’s commitment to genuine connection with youth organizers as seen through the time he has spent working on these efforts. Yu spoke about seeing the board begin to develop a “deeper relationship with the young people over five, six sessions and not rush into saying ‘Yes, let us have a youth on there on a board,’” appreciating the former approach and characterizing the latter approach as “tokenistic.” To conclude, Yu acknowledged that the efforts of the California Endowment have extended beyond the President’s Youth Council to “so many things that we are really trying to plant the seeds for because this has to survive” beyond current leadership.

After Garcel thanked Yu and noted that her comments built on the prior discussion, Baxter reflected on the current efforts concerning voter suppression seen throughout the United States alongside the efforts of youth organizers “to really expand access to the vote and make it much easier to vote.” He asked the panelists if any had experience with efforts to lower the voting age.

Zhang responded. Having had been one of the youth leaders for the 2020 San Francisco Vote 16 Campaign, she said that the campaign’s goal was to lower the voting age “so that young people ages 16 and 17 could then vote in local elections, including for the board of supervisors, mayor, district attorney, and school board elected officials as well as for local propositions. She discussed her involvement with the communications aspect of the campaign, such as talking with the media and presenting at schools. She said that most of their interactions were with people who were supportive of their efforts, which ultimately proved to be detrimental. While Zhang and her fellow organizers were confident that the San Francisco Vote 16 Campaign would pass, the ballot proposition failed by a margin of less than one percent. Zhang reflected on this educational experience, saying that it was “enlightening in that truly to expand the electorate means you personally as an organizer and as an activist, you need to reach audiences and demographics that you are not used to reaching.” Zhang said that members of the Vote 16 Campaign are using their time to collect and analyze survey data to understand why the campaign failed and to inform another attempt in 2024.

Dellafosse commented on the issue of voter suppression in California. Despite California not being part of the typical conversation about voter suppression, Dellafosse said that in the 2022 primary, California “had one of the lowest turnout rates in this country.” She also reflected on her experience with campaigning for Vote 16 in her community, saying that the key challenges faced were “tactics that were used” and had been used in the 2020 election as well. She added that organizers such as herself experienced “this narrative that was really out against many of us in Stockton

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 still continues to be against us in Stockton that have put a lot of our lives in danger, have put a lot of our personal information out.” Dellafosse said that she personally experienced vandalism and harassment “because of the issues that we have publicly spoken out about that were issues that young people care about.”

Dellafosse said she shared this information to convey the fact that despite the many grassroots movements for youth organizing around voting in California, there has also been a major obstacle with “this narrative attack that has been happening.” She emphasized the risk to personal safety that youth organizers experience even when they confront smaller issues. Dellafosse gave the example of the school board in Stockton which has had eight superintendents over the course of 7 years. The longest-lasting superintendent was in the position for 2 years, and there had been three superintendents in the preceding 3 months. According to Dellafosse, youth leaders advocated electing a young person to the school board, and the community pushback resulted in threats to the personal safety of the youth leaders. Dellafosse defined this pushback as a form of voter suppression.

Dellafosse further elaborated on the types of voter suppression seen in California, which include changes to laws regarding what voter suppression looks like, how counties can behave during elections, how information regarding candidates can be displayed, and how information about candidates and polling places can be distributed to the electorate. She emphasized that the fight against voter suppression in California is still ongoing. She mentioned the “extremely low” voter turnout of 14 percent in Stockton in the 2022 primary and said that in certain underserved areas, “less than a percent of our communities is turning out to vote.” She concluded by emphasizing that those elected “make critical decisions on the issues that are happening in our communities” and that youth advocacy to fight against voter suppression would ensure that a greater number of people have their voices heard in these elections.

Garcel said that while she is the moderator of this panel, she would like to comment on the discussion due to her experience with the Latino Community Foundation’s focus on voter suppression. “You can have the policies change for the better,” she said, “but if the investments are not made in the organizations that are actually driving those numbers to change for the electorate to really reflect the electorate,” the changes will not last. She elaborated regarding the “heavy and long-term” nature of the needed investments and emphasized that these investments need to be cultivated year-round, including investments “in the infrastructure, our civic organizations, our grassroots organizations that are not just registering voters but engaging them in these conversations and holding candidates accountable for when they come to speak and listen and push-

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

ing them to do it.” Garcel also acknowledged the importance of communicating with candidates so that they will “listen to these young voters and put their issues on their agenda and then invest in those organizations year-round so that young people feel heard, listened, and loved.”

Garcel referred to George Galvis’s comments from earlier in the workshop regarding his success metric: “When young people feel loved and heard and seen, they will turn out to vote. But we have to invest in the organizations that wrap their arms around these young people and give them the platforms to actually be heard and seen.” She concluded by stating that this is a critical issue in our democracy at the present time. Garcel then mentioned an interview with the poet Amanda Gorman on National Public Radio (NPR) that had aired the morning of the workshop. In the interview Gorman discussed how the voices of young people can influence conversations about important subjects, such as climate change (Martinez, 2022). Garcel noted that it is the issues that most affect young people that matter at this moment and added, “Who gets out to vote and for what issues and with what values is going to determine whether or not we actually get ahead of these issues and these problems.”

Next, an audience member asked, “Should every city, county, and state have youth councils, and why don’t they?” Garcel answered, “A resounding yes,” and invited the panelists to comment further. She also explained that when encountered by “outspoken, bold, courageous, young people,” public officials may feel uncomfortable giving youth more of a leadership role.

Dellafosse responded first and emphasized that exclusivity is a concern if youth councils are not developed with caution. She said that not all youth leaders come from traditional paths, such as youth leadership, and that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for forming youth councils. Instead, she suggested that people ask their counties and cities certain questions about how best to serve their young people: “How are youth voices going to be a part of a decision-making process? How much of our budget is allocated towards young people? If it is not, how do we meet a mark so that we can be able to invest in young people in a way that actually produces significant outcomes that increase the quality of life and health for these young people? . . . What removes barriers for young people? What is removing challenges around getting people out of poverty?”

Zhang outlined some of the barriers to creating youth councils in the current system, sharing her experience with the San Francisco Youth Commission as an example. She said that a 5-year process involving partnering with an elected official, passing legislation, and receiving approval from voters was required for the formation of the San Francisco Youth Commission. Zhang also repeated Dellafosse’s comments on the

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

“inherent privilege” found in youth councils. She discussed her experience where “a lot of youth councils primarily have a lot of private school students who can afford to take that extracurricular with no pay because oftentimes youth commissions are not paid.” She offered a solution whereby the youth council is embedded into the community and regularly partners with community-based organizations to ensure that diverse voices are represented.

George Galvis said he appreciated “this exchange of thought leadership in these discussions” and emphasized Zhang’s comments on “the importance of paying our young people for their thought leadership.” Galvis said that many young people are required to take on a job “to help subsidize their family income” and that pay beyond a basic stipend for attending a meeting should be considered due to the amount of effort expended between formal gatherings. He said that the organization’s choice to pay young people appropriately for their work is a reflection of values. Galvis underscored this point by saying that his organization pays high school students $18 per hour and young adults $25 due to their location in a high cost of living area and the quality of work these individuals provide.

Galvis said the paradigm in selecting youth council members and youth leaders is to focus on high-achieving youth. He described how this method can be detrimental since it imposes a barrier for the young people who are experiencing “the kinds of challenges that we are trying to come up with solutions for.” He underscored this by quoting the expression “Those closest to the pain are also closest to the solution.” He said that organizations should not shy away from finding youth organizers among formerly incarcerated youth or undocumented young people and that they should figure out how to pay these individuals for their efforts. Galvis invited workshop attendees to speak to him further offline if they were interested in learning more about his organization’s approach to achieving these objectives.

Galvis concluded his comments by saying that “students who have been pushed out of school, expelled from school, who have experienced harsh school disciplinary issues, all of those things—those are the young people we should be inviting [to share] their thought leadership and their thought partnership in these discussions.”

Dellafosse suggested that “we also have to be mindful about ages,” considering that many youth engagement organizations cap the age of their participants at 25, but there are individuals affected by youth incarceration who are excluded from the conversation because they are 26 or 27. She said that these individuals did not have “the fundamental resources” to engage in this kind of organizing work earlier and said there is a need to rethink “the way we talk about young people and youth,”

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

being both intentional and inclusive “in a way that does include our young people who fit outside of that category.”

Garcel thanked the panelists and the audience members for engaging in the discussion. She then posed one last question, beginning by discussing the infrastructure needed to build a multiracial movement. She acknowledged organizations such as the Latino Foundation, the Black Freedom Fund, and the Activate Fund, and then asked, “But how do we really begin to build this connection between the brilliance in all of our communities to build the infrastructure that includes all of us?” She elaborated by saying that “it is the people that is the true infrastructure of these movements,” something that tends to be forgotten when government agencies or foundations “get lost in our programs and in our issues.” She mused about how to “invest to include all of these voices,” noting that the issue is particularly important in California, where minority groups combined make up the majority of the state population. She suggested that if these groups were to unite to address complex issues, “we really will get a lot further and faster.” Garcel then requested comments from the panelists on this idea.

Ross responded with two observations: “One, structural racism is the scourge of America. And two, we are frying the planet.” He then said that investments in young people have resulted in change to complex system issues and provided useful examples from California specifically. He referred to earlier discussions on youth prison and mentioned closures of youth prisons and the decreasing incarcerated juvenile justice population. He added that “school suspension rates are down 50 percent in the State of California over the last 8 years or so” and Medi-Cal, which is the Medicaid program in California, had become more inclusive for undocumented individuals.

Speaking of the future of issues that “seem overwhelmingly and immensely unfixable, which is structural racism in America and climate justice and climate change,” Ross said he believes that young people will be the ones to address these issues and that “the faster we move from tokenizing [youth] leadership and making it a boutique, ‘Isn’t that cute,’ kind of phenomenon into something that is mainstream and core to civic participation and civic engagement and a vibrant democracy in this country, the better off we are going to be.” He acknowledged that with youth leaders speaking on this panel, he is “preaching to the choir here,” and he said that older leaders “have to get over ourselves” and “get out of the way” to make space for young people when the time is appropriate.

Dellafosse agreed that “the multiracial, multigenerational, intergenerational” community building is important. She said that her work’s focus has been on violence and that “one of the principles of keying in on violence is that the universe is on the side of justice.” She recom-

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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.
×

mended that people work in a united fashion, facilitate conversation, and meaningfully and intentionally incorporate their diverse cultures without appropriation so that these complex issues can be addressed. Dellafosse concluded by emphasizing the need for leaders “to be courageous in this moment to meet the mark where we are at” and “to build this movement that is intergenerational and intersectional.”

Zhang reiterated the importance of various cultural groups becoming united in this work. She gave an example of the “rise in turmoil and . . . disagreement and conflict between the Asian community and the Black community” during the COVID-19 pandemic that she saw at her school, in her community, and across the nation. She said that within her school district, “young people were not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.” She discussed how she worked with her school’s Black Student Union to host listening sessions and develop a healing space for the community. Zhang acknowledged that this is not an all-encompassing solution but said that this work “is a testament to how young people are willing to have conversations about race, about fostering a community in which everyone can grow.”

CONCLUSION

Garcel emphasized the message of hope that Zhang discussed in her comments. She reviewed the panel’s comments on developing grassroots infrastructure, building thoughtful and intentional youth councils, moving from tokenism to centering the voices of youth leaders, and “healing from the trauma that so many young people are experiencing even now.” She also recognized the need to remember and make space for the fact that “even in this conversation of being post-COVID, a lot of people are not post-COVID yet.” Garcel invited Yabut to provide her concluding remarks on “what is going to keep [her] hopeful for the next 5 years,” noting that much work needs to happen in that time, and many people are “feeling that sense of urgency with our democracy here in our country.”

In response, Yabut introduced the concept of “inafa maolek,” which is a Chamorro4 phrase that “loosely translates to reciprocity in English but really . . . means to do what is best for the community while putting your individual wants and needs aside.” She said that this aligns with the ancient Chamorro cultural value of community success extending to individual success. She reflected on how the concept of inafa maolek has “translated” into the Guam government “realizing the capability of Guam’s youth and fostering or starting to foster an environment that will allow for young representation in all aspects of local life.” Yabut said that

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4 Local language of Guam.

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 has been excited to witness the growth of youth representation in Guam government over the past couple of years and noted the correlated increase in voter turnout among young people.

When considering what would drive her work in the coming years, Yabut shared a story from her life that has continued to inspire her. She was inaugurated into the Guam Youth Congress while she was a freshman in college at the University of Guam, and she was constantly asked about her plans for after college. She noted that many students, 95 percent by her own estimation, choose to move to the contiguous United States after they graduate for opportunities as Guam is a very small island that is 30 miles long and has a population of 150,000 people. Yabut decided that she was going to stay in Guam after graduation. The people she told were confused as they felt Yabut was limiting her potential opportunities by not moving away from the island. In response, Yabut said, “I want to make Guam a place where people want to stay and want to live because there is so much beauty in how small this island is and there is so much beauty in looking at what can make a place like this great.” She concluded by saying that groups like the Youth Congress and other youth organizations contribute to the beauty of Guam and that this is what has continued to drive her work.

Garcel thanked Yabut for her remarks, apologized that there was not more time for in-depth comments, and provided the remaining panelists a chance to provide “just one word to close out [and] leave these folks with an ounce of hope that [if] we invest in our young people, [we] will get to a better place.” Zhang said, “Everyone here today gives me hope, and the fact that young people are leading nationwide movements gives me hope.” Ross chose to highlight his fellow panelists by simply saying “Adrianna, Jasmine, and Kiana.”

Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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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Page 63
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 64
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 65
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 66
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 67
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 68
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 69
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 70
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 71
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 72
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 73
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 74
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 75
Suggested Citation:"5 Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement." 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 76
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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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