Members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign Meet with Senators to Urge Investment in Pathways to Opportunity

By Maharddhika

In its second year, the Reconnecting Youth Campaign has set a bold goal: build on the success of its inaugural year, which saw a $195 million increase in Congressional funds to programs that provide pathways to school, work and job training for Opportunity Youth. This year’s goal is to secure enough federal funding to reconnect one million Opportunity Youth—young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or the workforce—each year. (Currently, programs such as AmeriCorps, the service and conservation corps, Public Allies, YouthBuild, Job Corps and the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe reach about 360,000 young people each year.)

On September 5, 2019, about 40 people from cross-sector partners and allies, including OYUnited leaders and members, gathered at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) office in Washington, DC. Among them were youth leaders from across the country who have been working in their hometowns to organize their peers and to build relationships with their Congressional Representatives to support this campaign.

 

Understanding the Situation and Solution


In the morning, young leaders gathered to learn about the appropriations process and about a range of policies that impact young people. Thomas Showalter, Executive Director of National Youth Employment Coalition, started the discussion with an update on the status of federal appropriations for programs that provide education, job training, counseling and community service for Opportunity Youth. Funding remains wholly insufficient. Strong and robust investments are needed to help reconnect 4.5 million Opportunity Youth. “Congress should be spending $4 billion more to serve the nation’s 4.5 million Opportunity Youth,” Showalter said.

There was also an opportunity to dig deeper into the federally funded programs and ask questions in smaller groups. Taimarie Adams, Government Relations Director of Service Year Alliance fielded questions on national service. Doug Ierely, Director of Advocacy & Policy with Youth Build USA, shared updates on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Brendan O’Hara, Deputy Director of National Jobs Corps Association, discussed Jobs Corps. The current economic and political climate has posed some challenges for Job Corps. For example, on May 24, 2019, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plan to terminate the U.S Forest Service’s long-standing operation of the 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, which provide essential job training to disadvantaged Opportunity Youth across rural America.

The meeting also covered intersectional issues like the green economy. The green economy represents one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. economy, offering a chance for policymakers, advocates, youth and industry leaders to rethink access to work, careers, innovation and opportunity.

Denise Fairchild, President & CEO of the Emerald Cities Collaborative drew the connection between the economy, the environment and equity. “Our young people are core to reshaping how America works, how it’s built and who gets benefit from it,” she said.

As one of strategies to raise the public visibility of these issues, young leaders learned how to effectively use social media to build awareness, amplify shared messages and calls to action, and inform and engage key stakeholders. The campaign hashtag is #ReconnectingYouth.

A Reconnecting Youth Campaign team on Capitol Hill

 

Hill Meetings: Connecting with Senators

After lunch (provided by Foodhini, a DC-based caterer with a social mission) and a training led by Opportunity Youth United founding member Shanice Turner, the campaign visited Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of 16 Senators: Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Neely Kennedy (R-LA), Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brain Schatz (D-HI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Boozman (R-Ark), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Christopher Van Hollen (D-MD) and Tim Tillis (R-FL).

In the meetings, Reconnecting Youth Campaign members shared the youth disconnection rate in the Senator’s home state, and what it would mean for the state’s young people and its economy if the campaign’s goals of increased funding were met. According to the latest Measure of America data, West Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas are the states with highest with youth disconnection rate (ranging from 15.1 to 17.0 percent of young people).

The teams had two calls to action for each Senator: First, increase funding for Opportunity Youth programs during this appropriations process. Secondly, help create a Congressional Opportunity Youth Caucus to champion the needs and contributions of Opportunity Youth.

In a meeting with Meghan V. Dorn, Legislative Aide to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Troy Johnson, an Opportunity Youth United local team leader from Mississippi, shared how YouthBuild, helped him at a crucial time in his life. YouthBuild also opened up opportunities to join other great programs, like AmeriCorps.

“Those programs changed my life from what I was to where I am now. Funding for these program help me a lot. It was the great real investment,” Johnson said.

In response, Meghan V. Dorn said, “Senator Lindsey O. Graham always been supported the AmeriCorps program. It has been a really effective in South Carolina. We have seen the impact. We have seen the great value in that.”

 

Members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign meeting with Sen. Moore-Capito’s office.

 

Helping former Opportunity Youth connect directly with Members of Congress has been one of the biggest factors in the Reconnecting Youth Campaign’s first-year success. The campaign and the local youth leaders are making sure the relationships continue to grow.

As one young leader explained during the convening, it’s a good idea to start building relationships before you need to ask for support for bills or funding. Also, the pre-election phase, when politicians are thinking about winning or retaining office, is another strategic moment to build relationships and negotiate needs.

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About the Reconnecting Youth Campaign. The Reconnecting Youth Campaign is a collaborative campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding 1 million pathways to education, training, national service and employment opportunities for Opportunity Youth, 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in school or work.

It brings together more than 40 organizations, including Opportunity Youth United, to call on Congress to invest more in the programs that work, so they can reach more of our nation’s 4.5 million Opportunity Youth. You can learn about the mission and members here. You can read the first-year report on the Campaign’s work and impact here.

 

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Maharddhika is visiting fellow with the Forum for Youth Investment’s SparkAction initiative, through the U.S. Department of State’s Community Solutions Program. In his home country of Indonesia, he is a program officer for Association for Election and Democracy, and NGO based in Jakarta. He has experience in conducting advocacy research that supports marginalized groups’ right to participate in free and fair elections and to keep their sovereignty in democracy. He is passionate about civic education for young people to participate in various aspects of civic life: voting, volunteering, deliberating on issues and advocating for a cause.

“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.

Increasing Opportunity and Decreasing Poverty in America Movement

By Lashon Amado

 

Dear OYUnited Members:

As you know, 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. It has served us well. It speaks powerfully to the principles we embrace and the real changes needed in our country.

It is the only national platform we know of produced by any national group of current and former opportunity youth representing Black, White, Latinx, Native American, Asian, and mixed race young people from urban, rural and tribal areas.

We are preparing to update the Recommendations for 2020. We are inviting input from all our members who are current or former Opportunity Youth. We will be disseminating the updated 2020 version widely, using it at public events, sharing it with elected officials and candidates for public office at all levels. We aim to increase its influence.

Would you take the time to re-read the Recommendations, that you can find here, and send me your ideas for anything that should be added, subtracted, or more emphasized? Your perspective, experience, thoughts, and vision matter.

At the end of September the Council will be meeting to review all suggestions and to decide what to add, change, or subtract in the Recommendations. I therefore ask if you could send your comments by September 2nd, ideally, and no later than September 15th. A simple memo with your input will be fine.

In solidarity,

Lashon Amado, Jamiel Alexander, and Dorothy Stoneman

Send your comments to: lamado@oyunited.org

 

Lashon Amado

National Coordinator of the Community Action Teams of Opportunity Youth United

Your Guide to Navigating Professional Spaces as a Young Adult

By Amanda Shabowich

 

The first the first professional conference I ever attended was a totally new experience for me. I was 21 and I had never really traveled without my family or friends. I had definitely never been anywhere like Aspen, Colorado, and I had never presented anything about my work outside of my own city.

I was proud of our work in Boston, but at the conference, I had so much anxiety about being in a space with so many people, very few of them were around my own age, that it was hard to relax and share our story. It seemed like everyone already sort of knew each other and on top of that, the agenda for the convening looked like a college class schedule I was trying to navigate, which felt overwhelming. It seemed like there was no one I could turn to to ask questions or be reassured in what I thought I was supposed to do.

What turned the whole conference around for me was being welcomed warmly by people who recognized me and told me they were excited to meet me. Some people introduced me to others and created space for me. I could ask my questions, attend sessions with familiar faces, and didn’t have to sit alone at breakfast the next morning.

Now, years later, I feel like I am on the other side of things. I look forward to convenings, I know what to expect, I know which friends I’ll be fortunate enough to see, and I know which of the “adult crowd” are our allies.

Still, every time I go to a convening, I see someone who has the same look in their eyes that I must have had when I attended my first conference—the scared and nervous feeling you try to hide so you can perform as your best “work-self.”

That’s why, as part of the planning team for the youth leaders portion of the Aspen Opportunity Youth Fund convenings, I wanted to create a resource for rising leaders who feel the same mix of nervousness and uncertainty that I felt when I first entered this space.

Working with others on the planning committee, I developed a “survival guide” to help new youth leaders feel more comfortable entering professional spaces. I gathered different kinds of advice and wisdom related to networking and leveraging professional spaces to your advantage.

Everything on this one-pager is not simply for young people, it’s created by young people.

 

Download the Guide

This year, we gave the guide out to all the new youth leaders attending the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions conference in Philadelphia. During our youth leaders meeting, we had a deeper conversation about navigating professional spaces. We talked about our own definitions of what it means to be professional, how to take care of yourself, and how we can all best take information home to help guide our own work.

While there’s no roadmap or official guidebook for navigating professional spaces as Opportunity Youth, it’s definitely an ongoing conversation as more spaces welcome (or think they’re welcoming) young adults. It’s important for us to understand that there’s no solution that will make people immediately look past your age when you’re young, and there’s no quick fix for making one’s expertise marketable. But I think the more heads we put together, the more allies we can gain, and the more we talk about how we each try to wade through these waters will lead us closer to those answers and solutions.

Similarly, it’s important for the older generations to reflect on the opportunities they were given, how they used those opportunities to get where they are, and to be forthcoming with sharing that.

 Advice to Other Young Adult Leaders

Networking: There is one element I don’t think I completely captured that has been pivotal to the opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to receive: learning how to “sell yourself.” Networking with people is important, both personally and professionally. It’s not always a great feeling, but if you know what your work is and you can externally relay how much it means to you, it will matter to others too. Whether in meetings, at convenings, or attending community events, I try to bring up what I’m working on, what is exciting to me about it and why I think it’s necessary.

Saying Yes: I personally focus a lot saying yes to new opportunities, because saying “yes” to things I wasn’t totally sure about has helped me a lot. For example, at my first convening in Aspen, the facilitators asked me at the last minute to share some reflections on the big stage, in front of everyone, to close out the convening. I said yes before I could worry too much.

As much as having boundaries and being able to say no is crucial—especially as an Opportunity Youth navigating professional spaces—saying yes to anything that I want to throw myself into has allowed me to not only be invited into rooms I really want to be in, but to open the door myself.

You are IT: I think the most important thing is that young adults never lose their confidence, or if they do, never lose the ability to fake some. Act like you are it, because you are. This may be abstract to others but for us, it’s our lives, it’s our families’ lives, it’s our friends’ lives.

For those we serve, and for ourselves, we have to demand opportunities, and we have to take up space, not just because we can, but because we deserve to.

 

Amanda Shabowich (she/her) is currently serving as the Youth Voice Project Coordinator, the Alumni Coordinator at Boston Day and Evening Academy, and a co-lead of the Boston Community Action Team. Amanda began with Youth Voice Project in April 2015, and was able to become an advocate for resources for out of school youth, plan and host youth-centric events, and build partnerships with other youth-serving organizations across the city. She has spoken about her work across the country, as well as designed and led workshops on the importance of amplifying Youth Voice through storytelling, self-care for opportunity youth, designing inclusive youth programming, and inter-generational relationship building. Most recently, she served as a Youth Facilitator & Content Consultant with the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy on their OY Career Pathways Project and was selected as a Youth Fellow for the Youth Transition Funders Group in the Economic Well-Being Working Group.

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.