Last week I had the great pleasure to speak at and learn from a group of 200 youth, youth workers, administrators, funders, policy makers, police officers and researchers in Milwaukee, at a conference called "Youth/Adult Partnerships: Engaging Youth in Community Transformation," organized by the Center for Urban Initiatives & Research. The conference focused on, and modeled youth engagement as a philosophy and strategy for community change.
If you know me, you know that youth engagement is a cornerstone of my work here at the Youth Work Institute. The conference organizers did an incredible job of taking a leap of faith and having youth speak on panels, perform and lead poster sessions about various community issues they had researched. And you could feel the change-a-comin'--oh yes, you provide the opportunity and young people will lead the way.
By the end of the day, folks, young and old, were ready to get organized, to commit to work together to enable youth to lead the way for Milwaukee.
Conference participants talked about creating a youth-adult partnership project in which teams of youth and adults from the various providers and ethnic communities within Milwaukee come together and do a city-wide community mapping project, both as a vehicle to increase youth engagement opportunities and for the individual people and groups to come together as a force for "Youth, for a change!" A great resource about youth as change agents is "Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change", by Pitmann et al.
Milwaukee has long wanted and have attempted to connect program providers so It was a goose-bumpy kind of experience for me to see this group of fairly disparate individuals coming together spurred on by the notion that perhaps what Milwaukee needed to get organized was to stop waiting for the adults to get it together but rather to flip the paradigm from "youth as participants" to "youth as leaders with resources and skills."
Where have you seen youth break through barriers where adults have failed? What are the supports needed and challenges faced when letting go of some control and partnering fully with younger people? Where in your program, organization, neighborhood, life and community are there opportunities to utilize young people's knowledge, skills and wisdom to ensure a wide range of ladders of engagement?
If you have the opportunity, ask young people with whom you work about their views on what it takes to work well with adults, what challenges they've faced and how they've been addressed.
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