National Community Action Team (CAT) Convening 2022 recap

By Shaquana Boykin

In August 2022, young leaders, youth led organizations & groups from across the country – all members of OYUnited’s Community Action Teams (CATs) – met in Miami, Florida for the first time since COVID-19 for a CAT retreat.

OYUnited is a national movement of young leaders who joined forces to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America. Community Action Teams (CATs) are local coalitions of young leaders and youth-serving organizations that mobilize their communities to become civically engaged and build collective power. The CATs are OYUnited’s grassroots organizing branches in their respective cities.

There are 20+ CATs across the country, and at this retreat, cities represented included Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Greenville, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pima County, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle,Tucson, Buffalo, Montgomery, Gainesville, Cleveland, and Raleigh-Durham/Orange County.

I attended the retreat as the OYUnited/SparkAction Digital Fellow, as well as a Member of the National Council of Young Leaders. It was amazing to see the increase in young people (over 40 in attendance!), who made up the majority of attendees, from when I attended my first CAT retreat in 2019. The retreat took place over several days with CATs bonding, sharing presentations of work they are doing locally, and learning together. On the first day, we attended an Organizing 101 workshop from speaker & activist Duncan Kirkwood, and ended the day with OYUnited’s Civic Engagement and Training Coordinator, Mickeeya Harrison, who led a training about using OYUnited’s Civic Power Guide. We also heard from all the Community Action Teams about their current initiatives in their respective communities – from organizing to pass policies that will support young people to mobilizing Opportunity Youth to vote in the upcoming election.

While day one of the CAT convening focused on team building and local organizing, day two focused on taking local issues to the federal level with a training led by Gerod Blue, Senior Policy Manager at the Form for Youth Investment. We also received training on Social Entrepreneurship and heard from four CATs in a panel about getting out the vote “Turning up the Polls: Voter Mobilization”.

Organizing 101 

The Organizing 101 training with Duncan Kirkwood explained the roles electeds play in decision making, so we could learn which issues to take to the appropriate offices that could speak to our concerns. We also learned the steps to an effective organizing campaign, how to get to know your audience, and how to use social media as an organizing tool. Ducan’s training was interactive, allowing youth to ask questions, and even featured a moment where the youth used dance to introduce the Media Training he provided. 

Social Entrepreneurship Training 

On the second day, Alex Peay led the social Entrepreneurship Training. (Fun fact: Alex is already a part of the OYUnited family and leads the Community Action Team in Philadelphia, OnesUp.) In his panel,“What is Social Entrepreneurship?” Alex explained that this is an approach by individuals, groups, start-up companies or entrepreneurs, in which they develop, fund and implement innovative solutions to social, cultural or environmental issues. As someone interested in social entrepreneurship, I appreciated getting training on what it means to secure funding for our innovative projects.

OYU Civic Guide & Voter Mobilization Panel 

From left to right: Buffalo – Byron Chavis, Boston – Byron Chavis, Tuscon/Pima County – Samuel Turner, and Greenville/Delta MS – Alexia Hasan.

OYUnited’s Civic Engagement and Training Coordinator, Mickee, led the OYUnited Civics Guide training. Training is a big part of OYUnited convenings that enable us to build off our strengths and introduce new tactics and approaches to our work.

This panel focused on ways to mobilize voters ahead of November’s General Election. We heard from the Carolina Grantees in Boston (MA), Buffalo (NY), Columbus (OH), Greenville (MI), Montgomery (AL), Pima County (AZ), and Sacramento (CA) about their civic engagement projects since receiving the grant. The next step for the Community Action Teams is to continue to mobilize and engage youth in their communities.

Overall, OYUnited convenings are great spaces for Community Action Teams to learn from each other, share experiences, and leave with a larger OYUnited family, additional skills, and new resources to put into action. I’m personally excited to work with the youth who attended the Community Action Team Covening to co-create a youth art & wellness event soon, and am also planning to co-create a Youth Summit in 2023 with OYUnited in NYC. I’m looking forward to applying what I learned and creating spaces for youth action locally!

A passionate advocate and youth organizer, Shaquana Boykin works closely with the SparkAction team to enhance Opportunity Youth United’s digital presence by producing content, coordinating social media, and launching creative events and activations. As a community activist and youth movement leader, Shaquana’s work centers around food and environmental justice, tenant rights, safety initiatives, wellness and access to the arts.

In addition to her work with the Forum, Shaquana is currently a Food Sovereignty Organizer at Brooklyn Movement Center, a Community Leader with OYUnited, and an NYC Bike Share Advocate. She also serves as Chair of Programming on the Board of the Fort Greene Park Conversancy, Friends of Commodore Barry Park, is a member of the Public Allies Alumni Board, and the Children & Nature Network Young Leaders Advisory Committee. (She doesn’t get a lot of sleep!) Before joining the Forum, Shaquana worked with the Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Cooperation, the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, managed CSAs and the City Harvest Mobile Market, and coordinated New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) gardeners at Ingersoll, Whitman & Farragut Houses to name a few. A native Brooklynite, Shaquana holds an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College & a Bachelor’s in Legal Studies from CUNY’s New York City College of Technology.