Community Action Teams Come Together for Unity and Inspiration

by Luis Bautista-Morales, Coordinator of the OYUnited Los Angeles Community Action Team

The annual Opportunity Youth United Community Action Team Convening took place in December 2018, in Washington, D.C. It brought three or four leaders of each of the 17 OYUnited Community Action Teams (CATs) across the U.S. together to share and build on the work we’ve done individually and collectively in 2018.

CATs represented included: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Greenville (MS), Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Maricopa County (AZ), Pima County (AZ), Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle. The CATs gathered for three days and participated in a series of conversations, training and discussions.  Lashon Amado, the OYUnited National Coordinator of the CATs, facilitated the weekend.

The CATs come from different communities but face many of the same issues and share the same goal: to increase opportunity while decreasing poverty. The CATs shared their community struggles and learned experiences from working with their respective communities to empower youth to become more civically engaged. Sharing stories, victories and lessons helped the CATs to learn from each other while building on the unified vision and gathering more strength to bring back the same excitement to their communities.

There were about 70 of us, ranging in age from 16 to 85, but mostly in our 20s and 30s, men and women, representing urban and rural areas.  We were Black, White, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian in heritage, in keeping with OYUnited’s principle of building racial equity, healing and unity.

Building Community from the Start

We kicked off our convening by introducing ourselves to each other, since our Community Action Teams have grown from 10 to 17 in 2018 (and we keep growing!). Everyone formed two circles, one inside the other—those of us on the inside of the circle introduced ourselves to the person opposite us on the outside, and answered a question posed by the facilitator. Then, we switched. After speaking deeply to each other, we moved on to address another question with the next person in the circle.

The questions were very deep and brought young community leaders together with more experienced community leaders to shed titles and share things that even close friends might not know.

“How old were you when you became aware of racism?” “If you could change one thing in your community, what would it be and why?” These were among some of the questions asked and the room suddenly became full of conversations that were hard to stop because they were powerful, interesting and created a bond.

Immediately after this exercise, CATs shared their reports from their respective cities. These reports were exciting and inspiring.

Dealing with Reality

During the report-outs, one CAT leader received notice that one of his youth had been shot by the police the night before.

As this news was shared, the room became quiet and many were left with their mouths wide open, as if the air had been sucked out and an empty familiar feeling had been left in its place. The news felt like the perfect time to be angry, to be frustrated and to yell as loud as we could. This, however, did not happen. Why? Because, like the rest of the U.S., we have all experienced this in one way or another in our own communities. We have come to receive bad news with a kind of numbness, of despair, of unlimited grief, a deeply familiar sense of the impact of being born in the wrong city, in the wrong location, with the wrong income, and on the wrong side of town.

The CAT members know that opportunities can change the outcomes for the young people they deal with. We imagine what the life of this young person would have been if he had been given the chances of a young person in the suburbs. We imagine the difference in his life if he had been presented with opportunities for education, healthcare and a chance to pursue a dream. This is the reason the CATs did not react the way most would anticipate a room full of activists might. The only way to bring change to our communities, which suffer from this and many other problems stemming from poverty, is by coming together even closer and working on bringing opportunities to the youth in our communities.

“We imagine the difference in his life if he had been presented with opportunities for education, healthcare and a chance to pursue a dream.”

Shortly after gaining our breath and coming back together, we ended the day by sharing some of the ways in which we heal ourselves and our communities. The healing methods were important since we all share the pain from issues in our communities. Some of the methods that CAT members use are long baths, deep talks with friends, yoga, time in nature, exercise, crying with trusted partners and meditation to heal and work through tragedies in our communities.

The next day, we started our day with a chant from Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and respect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

We left our three days together inspired, fired up, informed, united, ready for 2019, to continue working for a better world for all.

OYUnited: Showing Up, Standing Up and Speaking Up at the Polls

By Makayla Wright and Adam Strong

This election saw the highest youth voter turnout for midterms in almost a quarter century. In communities across the nation, OYUnited has been working hard to empower young people to vote.

This midterm election marked historical voter turnout, including among youth. CIRCLE, a nonpartisan research institution,  estimates that voter turnout among young adults (voters between the ages of 18 and 29) went up by 10 percentage points, making this midterm the highest youth participation at the polls during a midterm election in almost a quarter century.

Young people across the country made it clear at the polls that they care about our democracy, know the issues, and will show up at the polls to hold elected officials accountable.

Many people were surprised by the historic youth turnout levels, but here at OYUnited, we planned on it. Last year, we decided that if we wanted to shape the political discussion and have the issues we care about at the center  like the mass incarceration of our brothers and sisters, the lack of investment in our communities, and the lack of pathways for higher education and a living wage –  then we’d have to mobilize young people across the country to show up at the polls.

Thirteen of our Community Action Teams (CATs) across the country started planning their Civic Engagement Campaigns for the 2018 midterms a full year in advance, and began implementing this spring, focusing on civic education, voter registration and voter turnout among young adults and all community members. These communities were Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Greenville (MS), NYC, New Orleans, Phoenix, Seattle, San Francisco and Sacramento.

In Seattle, our CAT led a series of events to energize and inform young voters, and to boost voter registration.

Our anchor organization, SOAR, is an intermediary in the midst of transition. I was hired in a new position, as Youth Voice Organizer in September of 2017 and tasked with working closely with community and launching our Seattle community action team. As a transplant, I learned a lot about the region. I learned about the inequities between South King County and Seattle, I learned about the lack of youth voice, and most importantly I learned that Opportunity Youth in King County were not being engaged civically, so our team decided to engage our community in different ways.

“I learned that Opportunity Youth in King County were not being engaged civically, so our team decided to engage our community in different ways.”

We hosted open mics, an event with the secretary of state as the keynote, a block party, pizza ballot parties, door knocking, voter registration at alternative high schools, homeless shelters, and re-engagement sites.

We set up tables at youth detention facilities and in parks to register youth and talk with the community. We also collaborated with local elected officials, supported education initiatives to increase college access on the ballot, and ran campaigns on social media.

The Seattle team was busy: With only four young people serving as voter engagement ambassadors in Seattle, Kent, Auburn, Federal Way, and Burien/White Center, we successfully engaged 500 people, registered 50, and helped 10 people return their ballots to ballot drop boxes!

In Chicago, the OYUnited CAT is proud of the impact we measured this election. The CAT focused its voter turnout efforts on precinct 10 in Congressional District #4 (a precinct is the smallest division of voting areas, known in some states as an election district).  The comparative voter turnout in this precinct was as follows: in 2014 there were 147 total votes cast, and in 2018 there were 363 total votes cast –  an increase of 216 voters, which translates into a 246 percent increase.

OYUnited and our CATs are committed to continuing to help our peers register to vote, show up at the polls feeling informed and ready, and stand up and speak up for our communities and our future.

We need you to help make this happen!  Please click here to join OYUnited.

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Makayla Wright 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.

 

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.

 

I Voted

OYUnited: WE MADE HISTORY!

Last week, we all witnessed a historic election and young people played a critical role – SHOWING UP in record numbers! We showed the world the power of young people and the power of our communities.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter includes highlights of the 2018 midterm elections and a blog from OYUnited leader and founding member – Adam Strong, who goes in-depth about the greatest historical turnout among youth since 1966. Go youth!

Read the full archived November 16 newsletter here.

I Voted

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Go Vote!

OYUnited: GO VOTE!

It’s time! If you haven’t already taken advantage of early voting, TODAY IS YOUR LAST CHANCE to use your power and have your voice heard..

This issue of OYUnited’s newsletter includes five tools to make sure you are prepared to show up to the polls.

Read the full archived November 6 newsletter here.

Go Vote!

 

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Vote

Countdown to Election Day!

Vote

by Lashon Amado, OYUnited | November 1, 2018

The 2018 midterm election takes place on November 6, 2018 –  less than a week away.  Our country needs you to SHOW UP! to the polls on that day and have your voice heard. All 435 seats in the federal government’s House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be up for election! In addition, there are state, local, and tribal elections happening. There is a lot at stake! There is a lot of opportunity to elect leaders who truly represent our communities and our issues.

LET US BE SEEN AND HEARD!

One thing is for sure: if young people from low-income communities do NOT show up at the polls, the elected officials will NOT take our issues seriously.  LET US BE SEEN AND HEARD!   We want to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America, throughout urban, rural, and tribal communities.  We want respect and inclusion for Black, White, Latinx, Native American, Asian, and mixed race people, and for people of all ethnicities, gender identities and religious faiths.   We want decent pay, affordable housing, good education, and safety for all.

We have seen the power of the vote in states like Massachusetts, where voters elected four women of color in the primaries to become their parties’ candidates for federal, state, and local offices. One of the candidates, Ayanna Pressley, an African-American candidate for Congress, made history by bringing out four times the number of voters who came out in the last mid-term primary.  As a result, she will become the first African American woman Congresswoman from Massachusetts, because she has no opponent on November 6.

There are also 157 ballot measures to be voted on in 34 states. The ballot measures cover a wide-range of important issues like redistricting reform, voting rights, affordable housing, minimum wage, marijuana, health care, and taxes.

Young voters are expected to turn out at record-breaking levels in the midterm elections! Make sure you take part in making history and encourage your family and peers to do the same. We need all hands on deck.

So get ready: Mark your calendars, arrange your rides, work out your work schedules, talk to your friends and family, research your candidates, and find your babysitters. Actually – bring the kids with you! It is important that they witness their parents stand up and use their power.

Here are some resources to help.

Tools to Be an Informed Voter

  • BallotReady: If you are unsure of who to vote for or undecided on any of the referendums/ballot measures, our partners at  BallotReady offer a digital voter guide and a “make a plan to vote” tool. BallotReady also has background information for every candidate and referendum on your personal ballot, allows you to compare candidates based on their stances on issues, biography, and endorsements and save your choices as you go. All you have to do is visit their website and enter your zip code.
  • Use Rock the Vote to Find Your Polling Location: If you are unsure of where to vote, you may visit the website of our partners at Rock the Vote to find your polling location . All you have to do is enter your home address. You can also visit their Know You Rights Tool to learn more about your state’s law on ID requirements, voting rights for returning citizens, pre-registration, and more.
  • Use Vote.org to see if you can take advantage of early voting: 37 states, including the District of Columbia, now let citizens vote ahead of Election Day. Early voting makes it easier to vote. You can avoid long lines on Election Day and pick a time that’s more convenient for you. Vote.org will let you know if your state allows early voting (click here to go directly to that feature).

Get Inspired!

Still wondering if your vote matters? Click here to watch some inspiring videos from some of our members sharing their opinion on the importance of voting.

Celebrate!

Our Community Action Teams (CAT) have done diligent nonpartisan voter registration and GOTV work across the country.  Here are some photos from our CAT in Greenville, Mississippi, who did canvassing in the community and transported the elderly and disabled to the polls for early voting. In the photos above, you will witness a 97-year-old resident getting registered for the first time! We are making history!

CATsvote

 

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LASHONLashon Amado is the National Coordinator of Community Action Teams with Opportunity Youth United. He is an alum of the YouthBuild program in Brockton, MA and is working on his Masters in Nonprofit Management at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). His passion for social justice stems from his experience as a young man growing up in a low-income community where he faced many challenges himself. Lashon feels obligated to give back and help drive change for disadvantaged populations who face similar obstacles and feel they do not have a platform to have their issues heard.

 

OYUnited & CIRCLE Team Up on Survey of Young Voters’ Perceptions

By OYUnited and CIRCLE

OYUnited worked with CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, to survey young leaders in six states—Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Washington— to understand their experiences with, knowledge of and perceptions of election and voting.

We identified the main barriers that young people face in casting a ballot, and offered specific action steps to remedy them. Our initial findings are summarized in the attached PDF (a full report will be released in early 2019 and we’ll share it on OYUnited.org).

The findings are also included in the Resources section of OYunited.org. To learn more about CIRCLE, visit civicyouth.org.

(Click to read the PDF.)

Tides of Progress: The One-Year Anniversary of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign

by Adam Strong, OYUnited National Council Member

On September 26th, 2018, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign – a national campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding education, training, national service and employment opportunities for one million Opportunity Youth (young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working). This in-person meeting not only marked one year since our launch, but it also gave us a moment to celebrate our significant success. I felt proud to report out with my colleagues that the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget had a $118 million dollar increase in funding for programs that serve Opportunity Youth from FY2017 levels.

In a time when most thought it would be impossible for an appropriations campaign to have any success, we defied the odds. We showed that when we stand united, we can create the political will to make the investments that our country desperately needs. Every time we met we asked ourselves who is in the room, and who else needs to be.

To ensure that each of the 4.6 million Opportunity Youth in our country have a bridge to education, career, or national service opportunities, we knew we had to grow; we had to reach beyond our capacity at every level. We needed everyone. With each passing month, the campaign grew.

As a result, when we circulated our letter calling on the Congressional Appropriations Committee to increase funding for the federal programs serving Opportunity Youth, more than 50 organizations from across the country signed on.

In this first year, our quarterly in-person campaign meetings represented our membership’s commitment: we always had a full house. One of my favorite parts of our meetings is the “State of the Issues Policy & Messaging Fair,” an opportunity to get updates from many of the systems that affect Opportunity Youth, from criminal justice system, immigration, and homelessness, to safety net programming, apprenticeships, and child welfare. It is always fantastic to be able to hear and interact with experts in their respective fields in small groups.

Doing More Than Defending Against Cuts

As a campaign, we have been through a lot together. When we were in the early planning stages, I remember we had tough conversations with some of our colleagues about our goal. Some thought our ask was too high, too “aspirational,” especially in our current political climate. Many of the budgets coming out of the executive office called for cuts and even eliminations to some of our programs. We knew that if we really wanted to provide pathways to opportunity for Opportunity Youth, we had to have the audacity to try. We had to stand up and advocate for our communities, and that is what we did. Coming into our one-year anniversary we had almost 40 meetings with congressional staff, and our passion for the work didn’t stop us from having nearly a dozen more meetings later that afternoon. We were pleased that Members of Congress circulated a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter asking colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to increase funds for effective programs.

Our tenacity paid off, and two days later, a Labor, Health, and Human Services (Labor HHS) appropriation bill was signed into law that provides a $210 million dollar increase in funding for programs that serve Opportunity Youth in FY19 from FY17 levels.

Since the campaign has started, we have seen a $329 million dollar increase in funding for programs that serve Opportunity Youth!

The Reconnecting Youth Campaign is proud of our collective efforts to educate Members of Congress about the vast potential of Opportunity Youth and how every $1 invested in helping a young person reconnect yields more than a $5 return on investment. Investing in our youth is the best possible investment we could make. Reaching out and securing bipartisan champions to support key investments has been crucial.

While we have come a long way in our first year, we continue to work toward a more significant investment that would reconnect 1 million young people per year to education, careers, and service opportunities. We have much work to do in FY2020, but together we are making the difference.

To learn more about the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, click here.

 

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adam
Adam 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.

#NationalVoterRegistrationDay

OYUnited: Today is #NationalVoterRegistrationDay!

While national elections get the media attention, local elections in many ways have a more direct impact on people’s lives, including the quality of roads and transit systems, the schools our kids attend, parks and greenways, public safety, and more.

This issue of OYUnited’s e-newsletter helps to inspire, educate and provides tools to help you register to vote.

Read the full archived September 25 newsletter here.

#NationalVoterRegistrationDay

 

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NVRlogo2

#OYUvotes: National Voter Registration Day Challenge

NVRD-register!September 25 is National Voter Registration Day. Your voice matters, your vote matters and not just during presidential elections. This November, be sure to go to the polls.

OYUnited is hosting a voter registration challenge. Be sure you’re registered, and then urge your peers to register on or before September 25.

Here’s how to get involved:

    • First, are you registered and ready? Use our tool, in partnership with TurboVote, here.
    • Why do you vote? Why does it matter to you? Make a short video, image/meme or social media post and share it with the hashtags:  #OYUvotes and #NationalVoterRegistrationDay (bonus: add a hashtag for your city or town!). Be sure to include these tags so we and our partners can help amplify your post.
    • Check out Nonprofit Vote’s resource page to get the info and deadlines for Voting in Your State.
    • Questions? You can call 866-OUR-VOTE to get local information and answers to your questions (or visit the ElectionProtection.org site).

Share this with your friends and networks! Use our NVRD social media toolkit to spread the word.

YouthPOwer

Bringing Youth Power to Polls at the #YouthPower2018 Summit

youthpower

by Adam Strong, OYUnited National Council of Young Leaders

August 10, 2018 – It was a hot California day, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees, but the high temperatures would not dissuade over 300 young changemakers from across the state of California from descending on the University of California Davis campus for the 2018 Youth Power Summit, hosted by PolicyLink in partnership with the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and numerous local partners (see the full list here).

The purpose of the event was to strengthen youth movements across California by bringing young activists together for a three-day weekend to hone their skills, share best practices, and build community while they advocate for a better future for all Californians.

With the focus on building youth-led movements, Opportunity Youth United, of course, was there in force with our Los Angelos, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Oakland Community Action Teams (CATs) in attendance.

Their Saturday started on a high note during the regional breakout sessions focused on quality education throughout California. The young leaders split into groups by region to identify problems in their local schools, brainstorm solutions, and recognize their local decision-makers active on the specific issues. The workshop seamlessly built a sense of community across the state as young leaders began to see the common threads across their communities.

OYU at Youth Power Summit

 

Asking Questions of Candidates

As the day progressed into the afternoon, the nonpartisan Superintendent Candidate Forum went into full swing as the two leading candidates for the office of California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, faced off and answered questions from the moderator and from a group of the young leaders.

youth power

Young people ask the candidates questions during the forum.

In addition, with a little bit of coaxing behind the scenes, we were able to arrange for representatives from our California youth-led CATs to interview the candidates in a small informal group. Both candidates were gracious enough to accept, allowing the OYUnited CAT leaders over 30 minutes of uninterrupted conversation.

The California OYUnited members showed up, stood up, and spoke up about real problems their school systems were facing and asked important questions. California has more than 6 million public school students; the Superintendent selected in November’s election will lead the country’s largest and most racially diverse school system. Both candidates were prepared to address the issues and gave thoughtful responses to each question.

Meeting with Elected Officials

Sunday was another action-packed day as the young leaders prepared for over 100 legislative meetings in total at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The first part of the preparation was the young leaders learning about the nine bills that were identified by their organizations as good bills to support heading into the summit. Each participant chose a system they were passionate about — for example, police accountability, transparency, education or workforce issues. They then learned about the bills identified in those sectors: what the bills propose, the problems they were designed to address, and the talking points and messaging for each bill.

After these workshops, the young people met in their small groups for a training on best practices and general expectations for meeting with legislators, and of course, had fun engaging in role-plays to prepare.

Below is the list of bills chosen by the organizations and their young leaders:

  • Police Accountability
    • AB 931 (Weber) – Changes the standard by which law enforcement officers can use deadly force.
  • Policy Transparency
    • SB 1421 (Skinner)– Allow public access to police investigations, findings, and discipline relating to deadly and serious uses of force, sexual assault against a civilian, and proven dishonesty.
  • Juvenile Justice
    • SB 439 (Lara & Mitchell) – Would exclude children 11 years old and younger from prosecution in juvenile court, protecting them from the negative impacts of formal justice system involvement. |or| Setting a minimum age for Juvenile Court prosecution.
    • SB 1391(Lara & Mitchell) – Prohibits children age 14 and 15 from being tried as adults in criminal court and being sentenced to time in adult prison.
  • Sentencing Reform
    • SB 1437(Anderson & Skinner)- clarifies that a person may only be convicted of murder if the individual willingly participated in an act that results in a homicide or that was clearly intended to result in a homicide.
  • Education
    • SB 607 (Skinner) – End of willful defiance/disruption suspensions and expulsions.
    • AB 2772 (Medina) – Ethnic Studies Requirement.
  • Healing and Trauma
    • AB 1639 (E. Garcia) – California Victim Compensation Board, this bill ensures that alleged gang affiliation and immigration status don’t preclude someone from Victims Compensation Fund eligibility.
  • Workforce
    • AB 2138 (Chiu & Low) Access to Occupational Licenses for formally incarcerated people.

The capitol visit day was a strong success. Our young leaders came prepared, shared their stories, built relationships with their elected officials and helped move the needle towards a better future for all Californians.

Learn More

  • You can learn more about the Youth Power Summit here.
  • You can learn more about OYUnited’s Community Action Teams (CATs) in California and around the nation – and get involved! – here.

 

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adam
Adam Strong
is a founding member of OYUnited and member of our 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.