Join OYU and Youth Voice Project for a Webinar on Intergenerational Equity: July 25

logoOpportunity Youth United members are invited to join Everyday Democracy for an intergenerational equity webinar on Wednesday July 25th.

The session will feature our work, as well as that of our friends at the Youth Voice Project in Boston.

What: Best practices for building intergenerational equity in your work, through the experiences of Youth Voice Project and Opportunity Youth United.

When: Wednesday, July 25 2-3:30pm ET


  • Malana Rogers-Bursen, Program Associate for Everyday Democracy
  • OYUAmanda Shabowich, Program Coordinator, Youth Voice Project
  • Shayla Fonfield, Senior Peer Leader, Youth Voice Project
  • Lashon Amado, National Coordinator of Community Action Teams, Opportunity Youth Unit

Register here

More on the session: What is intergenerational equity? Everyday Democracy defines it as the practice of treating everyone fairly and justly regardless of age, with special consideration to the structural factors that privilege some age groups over others. We do this by building strong relationships and partnerships, sharing power across generations, creating mentorship and cross-generational learning opportunities, and making space for youth voice.

This webinar will explore best practices for building intergenerational equity in your work. Youth Voice Project will share their experience in developing intergenerational conversations that provide a welcoming space for people across all generations to enter and tell their stories, voice their opinions, and organize together to create sustainable solutions in a concrete way. Opportunity Youth United will discuss their national work and how they organize young leaders and adult allies to work together and build power within communities. Learn more.

This webinar is free and open to the public. You must register to join.


June 12th, 2018 Newsletter: Leaders Connect to Get the Movement Growing

OYUnited gives young leaders a space to share their voices, reflect on their lesson learned, and further develop their leadership skills.

Read full archived June newsletter here.

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April 4th, 2018 Newsletter: Continuing M.L.K Jr.’s Dream

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the March for Our Lives in DC, OYU’s retreat in Phoenix, Arizona, and more.

Read the full archived April newsletter here.

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February 26th, 2018 Newsletter: Working Towards Policy Changes & Better Opportunities For Yoth

Leaders fight for policy reform by speaking out and creating Community Action Teams in multiple cities.

Read full archived February newsletters here.


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OYU Community Action Teams Come Together to Prepare for 2018

By: Shanice Turner, National Council of Young Leaders
Jan. 8, 2018

In mid-December 2017, young leaders from across the country – members of OYU’s Community Action Teams (CATs) and OYU Community Leaders – met in Boston for the first-ever CAT retreat.

I was one of several members of the National Council of Young Leaders who also attended the retreat. It was amazing. The knowledge and practices shared are definitely lessons that I can take back to my work in Atlanta.

Community Action Teams are the grassroots organizing arm of OYUnited.  Groups of young leaders from local youth-serving organizations come together to uplift the issues affecting low-income communities, to promote the Recommendations for Increasing Opportunity and Decreasing Poverty in America, to make their voices heard with elected officials, to mobilize their peers to be informed voters, and to advocate for their priority issues while serving their communities in a variety of ways.

This was the first time many of the CAT leaders met each other in person. There were about 30 young leaders in the room, representing OYU’s CATs in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Seattle. Leaders from Columbus, Ohio also participated. (OYU also has a CAT in New York but its members were unable to participate.)

Here’s what I love about OYU: We are a solutions-oriented movement of young adults who have experienced poverty and are dedicated to creating a society with opportunity and responsibility, love and respect, education and employment, justice and equality for all. We are Black, White, Native American, Latino, Asian, and Mixed Heritage.  We are from all different religions, genders and sexual preferences, from both urban and rural areas.

In this two-day retreat, we learned specific skills to help us make our vision a reality across America.

Learning Fiscal Mapping

A highlight of the retreat was the fiscal mapping training we received. Elizabeth Gaines and Olivia Allen, trainers from the Forum for Youth Investment, walked us through how city and state budgets are made and how government agencies propose funding for local activities.

Using skits, we acted out and visualized how to understand and influence funding decisions. We learned about communities where advocates have successfully increased funding for programs for young people.

Presentation on budget proposals

Budget information

Looking at Boston’s fiscal year budget.

My take-away: the number of people engaged in advocacy counts. Be specific and use your political muscle.

As young leaders, we can follow our city and state budget process by going online, and then pitch a budget increase for the things that we are passionate about. We can bring information to decisionmakers one by one and also use public hearings as a way to have our questions answered and voices heard.


Jamiel Alexander

OYU National Council of Young Leaders member Jamiel Alexander during the training.

Building Our Movement, Planning for 2018

Later on that first day, we traveled to the Boston-based organization, Teen Empowerment, for more training. We paired off with the people who live and are doing work in our cities. Together, we brainstormed our plans and priorities for 2018, and then reported to everyone about our key activities. It was energizing and concrete.


Inside the meeting

Working on our 2018 local action plans.

On our last day in Boston, the CATs held a discussion about how they would like to mobilize, and how longer-standing CATs could assist newer groups that have recently joined OYU.  One area we discussed: how to utilize social media to gain support and awareness.

We shared the history of OYU and the CATs, and discussed how to define what it means to be an effective CAT. We had another brainstorming session on how to organize our CATs.

At the end of the final day, we reported out on the ideas that we are each taking back to our cities and how to leverage the connections we made during this retreat when we all go back to our communities.

We’re ready for 2018!





Shanice Turner is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders and a founding member of Opportunity Youth United, and is affiliated with the OYU Sponsoring Organization Year Up. 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).


Photo credits: Nancy Schieffelin and Shanice Turner (Twitter.com/@ShaniceSpeaks)


December 27th, 2017 Newsletter: Happy Holidays!

Community Action Teams and other young leaders across several organizations and cities, train for better engagement, strategizing and organizing.

Read the full archived December newsletter here.


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Oct 31st, 2017 Newsletter: OYUnited Speaking Up on Capitol Hill and a Chance to Win $100!!

OYUnited leaders speak up on behalf of the Reconnecting Youth campaign and encourage more voting through a voting challenge.

Read the full archived October newsletter here.


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Our Response to Charlottesville


Our Response to Charlottesville

By: The National Council of Young Leaders, Opportunity Youth United
Sep. 8, 2017

September 8, 2017
OYUnited E-Newsletter (Subscribe)


We recognize and are deeply moved by the profound tragedies of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the frightening announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The internal process of our Council’s reflections takes more time than the rapid cycle of tragedies in the news. We believe our collective response to the events in Charlottesville,Virginia, remains important to share with the members of Opportunity Youth United.

Our Response to Charlottesville:

“You don’t fight racism with racism; you fight it with solidarity.”  (Fred Hampton)

The National Council of Young Leaders organized Opportunity Youth United in 2015 in order to mobilize Black, White, Native American, Latino/a, Asian, and mixed heritage young leaders of all religious faiths, genders, and sexual identities, from urban and rural communities. We come together and speak from the heart to pinpoint the problems. We envision a society with caring communities, opportunity and responsibility, love and justice, for all.

The ideologies of hate behind the white supremacist, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups who descended on Charlottesville are heart-breaking and horrifying to us. All of our elected officials including the President must be held accountable to speak out and join forces to end hate crimes, racism, anti-Semitism, and domestic terrorism.

We know the desire to belong to a caring community and to serve others is part of human nature. Only when people have been profoundly misinformed and hurt do they grow up to hate and harm others.

Physical violence flowing from the hate of white nationalists in Charlottesville resulted in injuries of 19 innocent people and the horrible murder through a deliberate car crash hitting the gentle and devoted Heather Heyer who was known for her deep caring for other human beings. We honor her.

We also honor and learn from our ancestors who stood up bravely giving their lives to fight injustice. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) James Reeb, the white Minister killed by white men with clubs for his support of African American civil rights in Selma in 1965, died in solidarity with black activists as did Heather Heyer, whose last Facebook post said, “If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.”

We never again want to see the sin of genocide committed against any group of people. Now is the moment for all Americans to stand in solidarity against hate in all forms. We urge all our members to act in your own communities. It is also a moment to keep each other safe from harm. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published an excellent guide for individual and community response to hate, Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide. This guide includes good advice about preserving your safety while taking visible action.

Opportunity Youth United is mobilizing young adults of all backgrounds who have lived through poverty, and their allies of all ages, to build the power to dramatically decrease poverty and increase opportunity. In 2014, only 11% of eligible 18 to 29 year old voters actually voted! Those who didn’t vote gave away their power. In various localities our Community Action Teams are driving campaigns focused on voter engagement (registration, education, and turnout), criminal justice reform, and access to employment. We want to get the issues of poverty and injustice as they affect all races onto the political agenda everywhere.

Get ready for National Voter Registration Day on September 26th!  We will be mobilizing all our members.  Go tell a friend to tell a friend to join you as a member of OYU at oyunited.org!

In solidarity,
Kimberly Pham and Jamiel Alexander
for the National Council of Young Leaders, Opportunity Youth United

Finding Purpose and Peace through Nature

Finding Purpose and Peace through Nature

By: Jarrett Jones, City Year
Aug. 31, 2017

“My name is Jarrett Jones and I would first like to thank you all for taking the time to read my story about one of my first real encounters with nature. I’m a 25-year-old black man from Chicago. Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, I can’t say I was ever truly exposed to ‘nature.’ Of course, as a kid, I visited neighborhood parks and experienced the resident wildlife and nature there. But that was really the extent of it.

marquette parkMy understanding of nature as a kid mainly came from Chicago’s Marquette Park. Marquette had a playground, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts. It also had a lagoon, though I was never really a fan of the types of insects I found there. For some reason, lightning bugs and the way they naturally illuminated the darkness of the night fascinated me. To me, this was nature.

Once I turned twelve, things quickly changed for me. Almost a teen, I became more aware of the social norms prevalent in my community. Those norms included gangs, violence, drugs, etc.  These norms took control of my life over the next seven years, drawing me away from what I knew as nature…until I reached a breaking point. When I was 19 years old, I made the decision to no longer accept the negative social norms that had taken over my life. Nor would I accept the negative stigmas placed upon me and other young black men. Since that decision, I have gone on to work for three different law firms, one multi-billion-dollar corporation and one international educational non-profit. I am the only child of our three-child family who has obtained a high school diploma.

But one of my proudest accomplishments is my work with the National Council of Young Leaders. Our main focus is to engage the 5.5 million opportunity youth who are disconnected from education or work. We have six recommendations that we believe will eradicate this issue:

  • expand effective comprehensive programs
  • expand national service
  • expand private internships
  • increase all forms of mentoring
  • protect and expand pathways to higher education
  • support diversion and re-entry programs in the justice system


National Council of Young Leaders banner, painted by council member Francisco Garcia

My year with the council has involved traveling to conferences, summits, and events to speak about opportunity youth. We collaborate and strategize with organizations like Starbucks that participate in “The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative,” the country’s largest employer-led coalition committed to creating pathways to meaningful employment for young people. We speak with high-level executives about ways their companies can provide opportunities for young people who face unique challenges, but possess a source of tremendous talent and potential that goes untapped.

While traveling and speaking with key stakeholders, we always make time to connect with the youth that we are representing. In fact, one of the most powerful aspects of our work is the events we host or attend with local youth organizations to facilitate trainings on how to engage political systems, power and responsibility when using voice and telling personal narratives.


The Natural Leaders and Fresh Tracks Trainer Summit

Earlier this summer, I received an invitation to attend the Natural Leaders and Fresh Tracks Trainer Summit. I jumped at the opportunity to be of service and was anxious to learn from others. The first day of the camp, while getting to know everyone, I quickly noticed that I was one of the oldest participants attending. At first, it made me question my decision about coming to the camp. I was skeptical that some of the other younger leaders could teach me as much as I could teach them. But boy was I wrong.

The Natural Leaders Network provided us with great trainers and trainings that ranged from creating and telling your personal narratives, to developing action plans for community organizations to bring back to our own communities. Although the training was great, the conversations and personal connections were the most valuable. I met people from Alaska, Hong Kong, and multiple rural areas.

This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but keep in mind that I never really left Chicago until this year. For me, it was an eye-opening experience to hear the participants’ different cultural norms and experiences. I was embarrassed about how little I knew about indigenous people after talking to a couple of the young leaders from different tribes across the nation. They told me about the hardships and injustices that they continue to face. We talked about their cultural beliefs and traditions and how nature is an integral part of that. I left many of these conversations throughout the duration of the camp with what I believe will be a lifetime of knowledge.

With the realization that we share similar hardships, I feel the urge to do more and to learn more.

Jarrett on the water with fellow leader, Nizhooni

The summit was transformative for me on so many levels. But it was a personal experience with nature that left the greatest impression on me. A leader from Denver challenged me to take on one my biggest fears during a planned kayaking trip: large bodies of water. From early childhood to my late teens I have had bad experiences when it comes to water-related activities. Let’s just say that after being saved three times and resuscitated twice by a lifeguard, I have a respectable fear of large bodies of water. This leader didn’t care much about that. During the bus ride to the Potomac River, she encouraged me to face my fears. Naturally, after she initiated the challenge, I said “absolutely not” in my head. I had almost died twice. Why give death another chance?

When we arrived at the river, she continued to push and challenge me. At that point, I had to put on a brave face and just do it. I was beyond scared for the first five minutes because I couldn’t think about anything except my past near-death experiences. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I suddenly became present in the moment. I focused on the sunlight hitting my skin, the soft breeze, and what seemed like an endless number of trees. At that very moment, I was at peace.

I can honestly say I haven’t been at that level of peace in an extremely long time, if ever. Being a 6’3” young black man from Chicago, I don’t often have the luxury of being at peace. I could be navigating neighborhoods trying not to be the next victim of gun violence, working hard to prove I’m just as smart, capable, and competent as my white counterparts, or just making sure I’m not doing anything to warrant an encounter with the police. So, that moment, as well as the two hours we spent kayaking, was everything to me.

Group shot at the Natural Leaders and Fresh Tracks Trainer Summit

Looking back on the experience, without the encouragement of the young leader from Denver, I would have let something as minuscule as fear rob me of a life-changing experience. An experience that not only rejuvenated me with hope, inspiration, and peace but also allowed me to re-energize and continue to create a change for struggles my community faces at home in Chicago.”

Learn more about Fresh Tracks and the Natural Leaders Network here.

Photo credit: CJ Goulding.

This piece was originally published on the Children & Nature Network (http://www.childrenandnature.org/from-the-field-blog/) and is reprinted here with permission.

Quick Guide to the Federal Budget

Quick Guide to the Federal Budget

By: Opportunity Youth United
Jun. 4, 2017

Decisions are made every year by elected senators and representatives about how much of the federal budget to spend on what activities, and they profoundly affect all of our communities. Schools, Head Start programs, health care, national service, national defense, job training, public and subsidized housing, food stamps – it’s all affected by the federal budget.

Many citizens work hard to influence elected officials about exactly what goes into this budget, and where.

In our Quick Guide to Understanding the Federal Budget, you can learn more about where the money comes from, the process of budget approval, how the budget is spent, and become a part of this very important process!

Download a free PDF copy!

Take action! All you need is two minutes, and you can make your voice heard: Tell Congress to Invest in Opportunity, not Cut Key Programs and then sign our petition!