“We’re All Human.” Here’s How to Remember that When Meeting with Elected Officials

By Adam Strong

The first time I met with a high-level policymaker, I was so nervous my neck actually went stiff. It was 2012, and I was meeting with then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, together with some of my fellow members of the OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders. For a moment, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to move.

So what did I do? I took a deep breath and jumped into the conversation. After a few moments of stumbling on my words, I found sure footing on remarks I prepared and practiced ahead of time. The more I talked, the less anxiety I felt about talking, I was soon able to take a sip of water without seeing the cup visibly shake during the meeting. I never felt completely comfortable or ready, but rarely does anyone ever feel completely ready for what they are called to do. All you can do is prepare and face it head on.

I still get nervous, but now in my roles working with OYUnited and CIRCLE, I meet with Members of Congress and their staff pretty often.

Our federal policymakers in Congress need to hear from us – we can meet with them in DC or at home, in “in-District” (or local office) meetings. Here are some the things I’ve learned that I hope will help.

Why Meetings Matter

Should you meet with your elected Representatives in your district? Yes. Here’s why.

Meetings work. Meeting in person with your local representative can be one of the most effective ways to build awareness of issues you care about and persuade your local representative to take action in the way that they can. Being from the community and being able to talk about your experiences and give local context to the issues and your stances can provide a new perspective or nuance to a particular position that is exactly what they need to make a firm decision on something.

They help you build relationships with decision-makers. Meeting with your local representative is a great way to begin building a relationship with their office. Members of Congress spend a lot of time in Washington, DC, but they are also home working several times a year. And their local staff are there all year long.

Being a community leader isn’t just about one moment, but often means you continually lead and step up for your community when needed. As new issues or legislation arise, you want to be poised to reach out to the local staff person and make your needs and positions, and that of your community known.

In your first meeting with staffers in your local office, take a moment to ask some questions and learn about who they are on a personal level. You can start to build a relationship with them, where they know who you are and the communities you represent. The closer your relationship is, the more honest, authentic, and nuanced conversations you can have with them.

Legislators need your voice and perspective. Lawmakers often look to their constituents to inform them on what matters to them and the community, however, few take the time to schedule a meeting and actually engage in a conversation with their office. This trend means that your in-person meeting can be even more influential and have a great impact.

You can learn, too. Legislative staff are often the experts on where their boss stands in terms of policies, issues, and new initiatives. Sometimes the quickest way to learn about a particular issue or emerging initiative in your community is to meet with your local legislative office.

How to Set up an Meeting – and Make it a Success

  1. Find out who your representative is. Use this tool (all you need is your address).
  2. Find the local in-district office contact near you, rather than the DC contact information.
  3. Contact the local office to schedule a meeting.
  4. Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a confirmed meeting right away. Local legislative offices often get flooded with requests, site visit invitations, and questions. Persistence and patience are key.
  5. Prepare for your meeting. Have an ask in mind. Whatever is most appropriate, it could be to support a bill, look into a matter, ask the representative to try to garner support of his colleuges, invite them to a community event, etc. Bring any materials you need or that you want to share with your member of congress.
  6. Share (with permission). Ask if you can share and thank them on social media. You can even ask if you can take a picture – and if they have a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account you can tag. Most of the time, they’ll be happy for you to share that. Tag their boss too.
  7. Finally: Thank them for their time! Office staff will likely give you their card. After your meeting, follow up and thank them for taking the time to talk with you.

Representatives and their staffers are people too, and as they say, “you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar.” Small acts of kindness goes along way.

If you feel nervous, it helps to talk to peers and get advice and suggestions, and to see meetings in action.

Here’s a video from some of our friends in California who recently met with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) at her local office in Oakland, to talk about the Reconnecting Youth Campaign and urge Rep. Lee to support the campaign’s call to invest in pathways to jobs, training and education. (Learn more about the Reconnecting Youth Campaign.)

Do you have any questions? Reach out to me!

We want to hear about your meetings. Email us with a summary of how it went. Send pictures! Better yet, tag @OYUnited and #OpportunityYouth in your social media posts.

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adamAdam Strong is a founding member of OYUnited and member of OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders. A passionate advocate and lifelong learner, he has six years of experience in national policy advocacy, using his skills in policy analysis and communication & strategy he aims to influence policymakers to implement policies that increase economic mobility and decrease poverty in America. More from Adam.

OYUnited: WE NEED YOUR VOICE!

OYUnited: WE NEED YOUR VOICE!

The National Council of Young Leaders of OYUnited developed the Recommendations for Increasing Opportunity and Decreasing Poverty in America as the basis for our movement.We are preparing to update the Recommendations for 2020. We are inviting input from all our members who are current or former Opportunity Youth.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter encourages YOU to send in your ideas on what needs to be added, changed, subtracted or emphasized in the 2020 Recommendations.

Read the full archived July 30 newsletter here.

OYUnited: WE NEED YOUR VOICE!

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OYUnited: Building Power Across the Nation!

OYUnited: Building Power Across the Nation!

“Eleven members of OYUnited’s National Council and local leaders met on May 8 with Commissioners Alan Khazei and Steve Barton of the National Commission for Military, National, and Public Service to present our recommendations on how to expand and improve national service for opportunity youth, and how to create innovative community-based initiatives within national service.”

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter includes latest news on OYU leaders, staff, National Council Members, partners and young people of several OYUnited Community Action Teams (CATs) in action.  Two recent events highlighted were the Spring Convening event in Philadelphia, PA and a two day design event in Boston, MA. Additionally, we are updated on local action in OYUnited’s NYC CAT and Sacramento CAT. Read the full newsletter for more information, tools and resources.

Read the full archived June 6 newsletter here.

OYUnited: Building Power Across the Nation!

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How I Carried on My Grandfather’s Legacy by Meeting with Rep. John Lewis

By Shanice Turner

Staffers entered the office buzzing and brimming with anticipation. The seating area was filled with people awaiting their meetings with Congressman John Lewis (D), the representative for the 5th Congressional District in Atlanta, Georgia, who’s known for being one of the most famous and courageous people within the Civil Rights Movement.

Daniel Rosebud and I were scheduled to have a meeting at 10:00 am with Mr. Lewis, and, as Mr. Lewis finished his other meetings we were able to sit down. Our meeting reflected around informing him of the work that we do in Atlanta with United Way, Opportunity Youth United and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign: Unleashing Limitless Potential. Daniel highlighted our association with United Way and how we have done many events within the Atlanta area and in District 6. We were excited to be sitting there and to have the chance to advocate for opportunity.

Shanice Turner, a member of OYUnited’s National Council of Young Leaders, met with Representative John Lewis as part of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign.

During the meeting, I was able to speak with John Lewis about my grandfather Eddie Mack Turner and share a story about how he had marchedwith a cane and a limpwith Fred Grey and Andrew Moore, the people who had introduced Lewis to Martin Luther King in the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. I never met my grandfather because he died one day before I was born, so being able to tell this story to Mr. Lewis felt like a victory. To make it even more special, the day we met was my Dad’s birthday.

Even though the morning seemed rushed, people were buzzing, and time is always short, John Lewis showed no need to follow suit. When we first entered the room to sit down, he was calm, cool, collected. We pause to greet him, and he seemed to slow the room down specifically to talk to us.

He told us that he knows and supports YouthBuild, along with Job Corps. In 2017 and 2018, John Lewis helped to support YouthBuild by working together with many of his fellow Members of Congress to reverse proposed budget cuts and actually increase federal funding.

He took special note of the challenges we have faced in carrying our messages to Capitol Hill. He said he has always been a champion and ambassador for our cause, and he and his staff remain committed. His enthusiasm and passion for our issues was clear.

It felt amazing to be able to highlight the work with Opportunity Youth, explain what a CAT (Community Action Team) is, and talk about why we need his continuous support for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, specifically, to invest in 1 million pathways to education, national service and job training for Opportunity Youth.

During this visit with John Lewis, however, it was clear that supporting us was not simply a signature on a document for him. He made it clear that he truly cares about providing support as our advocate, ambassador and champion. His staffers also seemed onboard with the goals of OYUnited and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign. It seemed like it really mattered to them.

I stood before John Lewis, taking my stance to increase federal dollars and opportunities for young people. I stood as my grandfather marched, protested, went to jail for equal rights and freedom for African Americans.

Being on Capitol Hill and talking with John Lewis was such an honor. I stood before John Lewis, taking my stance to increase federal dollars and opportunities for young people. I stood as my grandfather marched, protested, went to jail for equal rights and freedom for African Americans.

Even now, as I picture myself standing there, hearing John Lewis’ affirmation of the work that I am doing, it feels like I am continuing my grandfather’s work and legacy and in many ways, walking in his footsteps.

Shanice Turner is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders and a founding member of Opportunity Youth United. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she serves as grants manager and writer for Gate City Day Nursery. Shanice is equally passionate about child advocacy and creative pursuits like acting and voiceover work. More from Shanice (including video). 

National Youth Hiring Day

OYUnited: Opportunity Alert!

“With unemployment at record lows, American companies are looking for new ways to find and hire great talent. Meanwhile, there are more than 4.5 million young people in America who are out of school and unemployed—or roughly one in nine youth who are disconnected from our economy.”

This issue of OYU’s e-newsletter includes information on the National Youth Hiring Day! The National Youth Hiring day will provide tools such as; common inquiry forms, video résumés, virtual employer spotlights, one-on -one career coaching, and access to on-the-ground events.

Read the full archived May 10 newsletter here to learn more about OYU’s National Youth Hiring Day.

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oyu Spring updates

OYUnited: Spring Updates!

We are excited to announce that 23 OYUnited members have stepped up to become local Team Leaders for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign (RYC). The exciting news is not over- find out how YOU can become a part of the second cohort by clicking our full e-newsletter.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter gives us insight on events within our local Community Action Teams including; the 2019 Sacramento CAT kick-off and Columbus CAT’s meeting to develop innovative community projects, obtain civic engagement education, and get connected to employment opportunities. For those interested in policy creation, we have provided a toolkit to help guide efforts to long-term change.

Read the full archived April 22 newsletter here

oyu Spring updates

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Makayla's blog

I Carry Them with Me, Lifting as I Climb

by Makayla Wright

On Tuesday March 19th I called my mother. I needed to reset myself and needed a reminder that I was enough. Despite being 30 minutes away from my first keynote experience, I worried that there was some sort of mistake. Why would the Gender Equity Center at Pacific Lutheran University want me to talk for 20 minutes about being a “gender revolutionary and phenomenal leader”?

My identity is complicated as a 25-year-old black queer woman from Kansas. I grew up low-income and was a first-generation college student, constantly reminded that I didn’t belong despite being admitted to Smith College because I worked hard.

My mom didn’t understand my fear when I called her, after all, to her I was her oldest daughter and fully capable. She had raised me to be in front of a crowd advocating. She had me when she was 16, and always believed that there was a reason she became a mother to me and my siblings: In her eyes, we would prove folks wrong and go on to greatness. She sent me to my school’s speech therapist and took me to a doctor when I failed to talk until age 5. She ignored teachers when they expressed concerns about my ADHD and inability to focus. She made flashcards for me, bought me Hooked on Phonics, and she and my stepfather made me practice speaking at home.

They told me to ignore the negative people in my community trying to push me down, but most importantly they reminded me to fight for my community.

As I spoke with my mother and then my stepfather that Tuesday, I remembered all of these things and more. I remembered why it wasn’t a mistake for someone like me to be in this position of leadership. It was my purpose and calling to always advocate for people like me. I got off the phone, grounded and confident.

As I arrived at the event to honor and uplift women and LGBTQ, low-income, and communities of color, I knew that I was in the right place. And so I started my speech with a poem I had written months before, meant to honor my family, community, and ancestors:

I carry it with me, their whispers
They drift across wind, for my ears only
They remind me to stay open, always
At my worst, I carry it with me
At my best, I carry it with me
In my work, it stays with me
“Never forget, always remember”
They chorus, gentle reminders
Sometimes louder, or softer, steadily there
I walk, the weight on my shoulders, the words on my tongue,
Body vibrating, full of energy, from generations before me
I never forget, my mind stays open, I hear them always
I carry it with me, I carry them with me
My ancestors, they guide, remind me
“Never forget, you are our triumph,” I continue
To carry them with me, a tribute to my ancestors

After this, I spoke about the five steps to being a revolutionary, which guide me. The five steps are:

1. Remembering who you are and what your roots are
2. Trusting your gut and instincts
3. Remembering what we fight for as community leaders and revolutionaries
4. Not taking a seat at the table, and choosing to create a more equitable place for your community
And finally…
5. Lifting up others as you climb

I spoke about my mother, and the young people I worked with and mentored on the Opportunity Youth United Community Action Team. I reminded the room about the importance of lifting your community with you as you climb, and why it is important to share your story and own your truth. I warned of toxic leaders who forget how important it is to support those around them so that they can grow and eventually surpass them.

I saw tears and fingers snapping and I knew the importance of voices like mine.

“To be a community leader means … lifting those around you and remembering why you speak.”

To be a community leader means remembering that leadership does not mean being charismatic or the loudest person in the room. It means lifting those around you and remembering why you speak.

I speak because I want people like me to know that they belong and that their experiences are important as well. Let’s all remember to lift as we climb together.

Makayla HeadshotMakayla Wright (she/her/they) is the Youth Voice Organizer for SOAR, a Seattle-based community coalition working together to promote the healthy development of children, youth and families in Martin Luther King County and the anchor organization for the OYUnited Community Action Team (CAT) in Seattle. Makayla grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas. As the child of former Opportunity Youth who never went back to school to get their GEDs, she realized how important it was to work with young adults in similar situations. Makayla graduated from Smith College and has worked in educational outreach programs, youth residential treatment facilities, charter schools, and as an Academic Coach. As a Black woman from the Midwest, she is passionate about exploring root issues and working with communities, and now advocates for youth and young adults by convening the King County Youth Advisory Council and organizing the King County OYunited CAT.

Local Team Leaders

OYUnited: WE NEED TEAM LEADERS

This is an invitation to take local leadership to get our government to invest in opportunities for youth for education, employment, and community service.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter invites YOU to become a Local Team Leader in efforts to get congress to support the Reconnecting Youth Campaign (RYC) and increase federal investment in opportunities for low-income young people. 

Read the full archived March 6 newsletter here to learn more about RYC and how to become a Local Team Leader.

 

OYUnited: Preparing for Another Impactful Year!

OYUnited: Preparing for Another Impactful Year!

“In December, 70 leaders, staff, and youth from all 17 OYUnited Community Action Teams gathered in Washington DC for the 2nd Annual National CAT Convening. Over the three days, CAT leaders debriefed and shared their successful 2018 voter engagement campaigns and started their plans for 2019.”

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter reveals an exciting kick off to the new year with motion in The Reconnecting Youth Campaign, a service project in Houston led by the National Council of Young Leaders (NCYL) and exciting steps within local OYU CAT organizations in Seattle and the City of Columbus. Additionally, this issue includes a video link of OYUnited Community Leader, Maya Burrell convening with political activist, Angela Davis and American rapper, Common for the 2nd Annual Social Justice Conversation in Los Angeles, CA.

Read the full archived February 22 newsletter here.

OYUnited: Preparing for Another Impactful Year!

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Making Hill Visits Count for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign

by Shawnice Jackson, OYUnited National Council Member

The Reconnecting Youth Campaign kicked off its 2019 advocacy efforts with a winter convening that brought the diverse coalition of youth practitioners, youth leaders, funders, advocates, program staff and directors together in Washington, DC. Everyone in the room was there because we believe in the potential of Opportunity Youth and the need to invest in their future.

The campaign’s goal is simple: Reconnect 1 million Opportunity Youth each year, by increasing federal funding to proven programs in communities across the country. (Learn More.)

For those unfamiliar with the term, “Opportunity Youth” are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or the workforce, formerly referred to as “at-risk,” “disadvantaged” or “disconnected.” The young leaders at the forefront of the Opportunity Youth movement and the Reconnecting Youth Campaign have rebranded and reclaimed a more asset-based approach to the many barriers and systemic hurdles faced by young people coming from poverty. A key part of this work to reclaim the narrative is embracing the term Opportunity Youth to acknowledge that young people both seek opportunities and represent a huge breadth of untapped potential. It also properly locates the “disconnection” in our systems and policy, not our young people.

Across the United States, it is estimated that 4.3 million Opportunity Youth are separated from pathways to productive adulthood. Despite this bleak reality, we know there are solutions and answers within reach. There are numerous federally funded programs that are working to allow Opportunity Youth to gain key relationships, skills, expertise and vital supports to prepare for careers and higher education—and propelling youth forward in their own trajectory towards purpose with a sense of dignity.

 

Shawnice Jackson, Kimberly Pham, David Abromowitz, Rachel Marshall, and Shaquana Boykin on the RYC Hill Visit

Mapping Our Shared Strategy

The first half of our meeting focused on recapping the Reconnecting Youth Campaign’s success in 2018 (read more here), defining our priorities for this year, and understanding intersectional issues like the green economy, youth justice reform, the broader world of social programs and Census 2020.

Building Relationships in Congress

After a training led by me and Adam Strong, a fellow co-founder of Opportunity Youth United, we took to Capitol Hill. With members of Opportunity Youth United leading the way, we met with staffers of more than 20 Members of Congress to welcome new Members of Congress and staff, inform them about the campaign, educate them about Opportunity Youth and the realities they face, and call on them to support an increase in appropriations to scale the federally funded programs.

Our experiences in the meetings were overwhelmingly positive. “I’m glad I could make it for this year’s kickoff meeting for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign. I always love being here, working with folks so our communities back home can have the funding they need to provide pathways into the workforce for our young people,” Adam Strong reflected.

Another co-founder of Opportunity Youth United, Kimberly Pham, also a former Opportunity Youth, shared that, “Visiting Capitol Hill following the government shutdown felt refreshing because everyone we met with was enthusiastic and supportive. There were no negative responses and since we are looking for bipartisan support, it felt good to walk away from the Hill with optimism.”

“Our goal is not only attainable, but just and within our reach.”

Optimism is necessary for the campaign to reach its lofty goals of reconnecting 1 million young people per year – but with Opportunity Youth leading the way, the possibilities are endless.

As I reflect on the diverse expertise and skill sets of the members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, and our shared passion for seeing our nation’s youth thrive, I am hopeful that our goal is not only attainable, but just and within our reach.


Shawnice Jackson

Shawnice Jackson is a Policy Advocate and former Opportunity Youth committed to building equitable and strong systems, policy, and pathways to opportunity for underserved and marginalized youth and communities. As a co-founder of the National Council of Young Leaders & Opportunity Youth United, Shawnice works to advise funders and policy makers on the needs and potential of Opportunity Youth across the country. She also bolsters the larger Opportunity Youth movement through her consultancy work and leadership. Shawnice’s current leadership roles include: Advisory Board Member with The Opportunity Youth Network; Leadership Council Member with The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund; Opportunity Leader with Opportunity Nation; Leadership Committee Member with the International Youth Foundation’s Reconnecting Youth Global Advisory Committee and Steering Committee Member for America’s Promise Alliance.

This article was originally published on SparkAction, Making Hill Visits Count for the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, 2/13/2019