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.


Read the full newsletter  Subscribe


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.


Read the full newsletter  Subscribe

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!

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 ( 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!

east harlem

“We’re Working on Issues that Affect Us”: Scenes from East Harlem

By: OYUnited, Opportunity Youth United
May. 5, 2017

“Movements have been going on for a long time here in America. In order for a lot of things to change to take place here in this country, is because a lot of groups came together and fought for those changes. We’re working on issues that affect us,” Kim Pham, National Council of Young Leaders said, kicking off a listening session with East Harlem YouthBuild.

Throughout the session, which took place on February 28 in Harlem, New York, members of the National Council of Young Leaders, the steering committee of Opportunity Youth United, came together with members of East Harlem YouthBuild to share ideas and priorities for change.

They explored their individual approaches to making change, and the unique strengths that come from their backgrounds, experiences and personalities.

At the end of the discussion, YouthBuild members were invited to join Opportunity Youth United and work together in the movement to increase opportunity and decrease poverty for all young people.

“It’s going to take you to bring those issues up. Who else is going to be your voice?”


Click to tweet: I’m with #OYUnited. Here, in powerful #youthvoice, is why:



Don’t Zero Out AmeriCorps Funding

Don’t Zero Out AmeriCorps Funding

By: Timothy Gunn, AmeriCorps
Apr. 8, 2017

AmeriCorps is a Pathway from Prison to Success

As an AmeriCorps alumnus, I am deeply concerned about the president’s proposal to eliminate AmeriCorps. Simply put, AmeriCorps changed my life and has helped provide a pathway out of poverty for countless other young people like me. I share my story in hopes that, when it comes time to vote on a budget, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Tim Scott, and Rep. James Clyburn recognize that cutting this patriotic program would be an enormous blow to some of our most at-risk youth and communities.

I grew up admiring those who supported their fast lifestyles with illicit activities. Despite exposure to this world, I became the first man in two generations of my family to graduate high school and enroll in college. However, the party scene caught up with me: before the age of 20, I was sent to jail on drug and gun charges. It was toward the end of my 32-month incarceration that I first met J.R. and learned about AmeriCorps.

Ladine “J.R.” Daniels conducted outreach in the prison. He was a former convict who, like many with a record, struggled to find employment after his release. He explained to me that things turned around for him when he enrolled in the AmeriCorps program at the Sustainability Institute in Charleston.

During his AmeriCorps service, J.R. provided energy auditing and retrofitting services to low-income homeowners. Through this experience, he gained workplace exposure and in-demand skills in the growing energy efficiency sector. He engaged with the community and developed a sense of purpose that kept him from returning to his old ways.

At the time I met him, J.R. was operating his own landscaping business and working to start a home weatherization company.

I reconnected with J.R. upon my release from prison and followed in his footsteps: I became an AmeriCorps member at the Sustainability Institute. I earned professional certifications in home energy efficiency, gained hands-on job experience, and developed skills in communication and teamwork. The money-saving home weatherization services I provided as an AmeriCorps member made a real difference in the lives of elderly and low-income Charlestonians. With every homeowner I helped, I felt a growing reconnection to the community I once hurt.

When I completed my prison sentence, I was one of America’s 5.6 million “opportunity youth.” This population is defined as unemployed and out-of-school young adults who are full of potential, but face barriers to success. My barrier was my criminal record. AmeriCorps is what helped me overcome my past and prove my responsibility to society. I built a résumé and used my AmeriCorps Education Award money to enroll in college.

It is estimated that young adults who are not in school or working cost taxpayers $93 billion annually in lost revenue and increased social services. Youth “fall off track” for many reasons, including simply living in areas that lack jobs and good schools. People from low-income communities often grow up hearing nothing but bad news about their neighborhoods. Through national service programs, young people see their potential, gain relevant skills that employers want, and realize they have the power to be positive change-makers in their own communities.

It’s not just opportunity youth who benefit from AmeriCorps. The Sustainability Institute also runs an AmeriCorps program to help returning veterans train for careers in energy efficiency. Across the state, AmeriCorps members at other organizations tutor in schools, feed the hungry, respond to disasters, increase access to public lands, and do much more.

My message is that AmeriCorps is not a handout: it’s hard work. It’s patriotic. The modest living stipend and Education Award I received in compensation for my service to Charleston’s low-income homeowners put me on track to success. Eliminating AmeriCorps would hurt opportunity youth like me, and hurt people like the homeowners I served. To Sens. Graham and Scott, Rep. Clyburn, and South Carolina’s other elected officials in Washington: please fight to protect AmeriCorps.

Timothy Gunn is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders, the steering committee for Opportunity Youth United.

This post originally appeared in the Post & Courier (South Carolina), on April 8, 2016. It is reprinted here with permission.


For Most People, the MLK Holiday is a Day Off, but for me it’s a Day On

For Most People, the MLK Holiday is a Day Off, but for me it’s a Day On

By: Jarrett Jones, City Year
Jan. 13, 2017

AmeriCorps member Jarrett Jones spent MLK Day giving back to his community. Along with over 1,000 volunteers, Jarret was a part of a beautification project at Curie Metropolitan High School.

The question was posed to me, “Why spend a day ‘on’ rather than a day off?”

First, let me say that this isn’t a day off for me. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everyone has the power of greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” He also said, “Everyone can be great because anybody can serve.”

For the last five years of my life, I have been driven by that ideology.

The reason I serve is to counteract the negative imagery of Black men broadcast in Chicago as well as nationally and to serve as a role model to young Black boys and girls so they can see that Black men are more than what the media portrays us as.

By being out here on this day amongst a diverse group of people we are exhibiting that community spirit that Dr. King once dreamed of. By beautifying and creating positive imagery in communities, we are starting to counteract the perception of that imagery from the outside as well as within.

It’s through these types of service projects and days “on” that the community itself exhibits that power and greatness that Dr. King spoke of years ago.

So, the question shouldn’t be “Why spend a day ‘on’ rather than off?” It should be, “Why have one day of greatness in service when you could have a lifetime?” The power should always reside with the people.

“The people have to have the power. It belongs to the people.” —Fred Hampton


Too often, students of color and students who face challenging circumstances don’t receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed. They are held to lower standards because of a Belief Gap between what society believes they can achieve and what they truly are capable of when we believe in them.

Visit to find out how to close the Belief Gap.

This piece was originally published on January 13, 2017 in CQ Roll Call’s Connectivity blog as For Most People the MLK Holiday Is a Day Off, But for Me, It’s a Day On and is reprinted here with permission.

Alert: Tell Congress to Invest in Opportunity, not Cut Key Programs

Alert: Tell Congress to Invest in Opportunity, not Cut Key Programs

By: Opportunity Youth United
Jun. 1, 2017


The Trump administration’s proposed federal budget includes deep cuts to effective programs and services that young people depend on for pathways out of poverty and that their families depend on for basic housing and health care. This is the OPPOSITE of what our people need.

Congress has the final say on the budget and federal spending levels. As the people elected to represent us begin this work, they need to hear our voices.

Please take a minute to send a message to Congress using our easy action alert tool. All you need to know is your address, we’ll connect you directly to your elected officials and give you a message you can send.

Once you’ve entered your address, you’ll see the message. Click the Instructions tab below for more guidance. If you are not an Opportunity Youth, you can customize the message.


Register to Vote through OYU

Register to Vote through OYU

By: Lashon Amado
Oct. 5, 2016

Did you know that every year is an election year in the U.S.? We teamed up with Democracy Works and TurboVote to create an easy way for you to register to vote, and encourage your friends and peers to do the same.

I’m ready to Register to Vote.

Did you know: Every year is an election year in the US. Get involved – register to vote!