On August 3, the American Youth Policy Forum began hosting our Youth Summit, which was the first in a series of discussions focused on the needs of young people.
As the pandemic continues, students are facing new and more complex obstacles to success. AYPF’s Youth Summit allows young people to connect with one another to discuss solutions to problems plaguing them and their communities.
During the first session, speakers recounted their own experiences as youth activists and the power of young people to create change. Following the panel discussion, youth participants joined breakout groups to share their own ideas.
- Roscoe Jones, Sr. began his work in activism in the early 1960s when he was just 16 years old, much to his grandmother’s chagrin. While she worried for his safety and general livelihood, he was not afraid because he was fighting for what was right – building a brighter future for his entire community.
Mr. Jones was a member of the NAACP’s youth council, where he became involved in education, direct action, protests, and grassroots organizing. His lived experiences culminated in a piece of advice for youth and a call for attention to lawmakers: “You have to believe in what you’re doing and go forward from there. Young people are people of action.”
- Nika Farokhzad is a Youth Policy Consultant with AYPF and the founder and president of Project 9, a youth-led, nonpartisan movement that connects young people with opportunities to engage with their state and local governments. The organization empowers youth to increase their political efficacy and revolutionizes the way young leaders interact with politics.
Nika’s interest in policy intensified as a high school intern for her state representative. She noticed that people below the age of 25 rarely reached out to their state or local representatives.
During the Summit, Nika highlighted that the policymaking process should be accessible for young people to get involved and emphasized that youth voice is central to the survival of society. And, as such, youth should be empowered to speak up and build an influential coalition. The importance of youth-led movements and compensation for youth labor within grassroots organizations, as well as the need for adults to take notice of youth expertise in political arenas, are all conducive to a cooperative and fruitful approach. “We are so much more productive when we play for the same team,” she said.
- Abdulkadir Ali (“Ali”) has been serving as a Youth Policy Consultant with AYPF for the past year. Ali is also the Director of Advocacy at Maine Youth Justice, a statewide organization committed to ending youth incarceration. Through investments in young people’s needs, wants, and quality of life, Maine Youth Justice hopes to shift from the juvenile justice system to a more community-based approach.
At the Summit, Ali stressed the need for peer-to-peer programs, like credible messengers, in schools as opposed to more punitive measures. Since school is where young people spend most of their time, they should have access to quality support systems to ensure their social, emotional, mental, and physical safety. While there are young people running for office in an effort to implement these measures, it is possible to make change on different levels by just showing up for and participating in a community.
The breakout rooms following the panel discussion focused on identifying the issues young people deem most important and exploring their ideas on creating change. Participants noted a variety of concerns with K-12 academic institutions lacking in holistic education, improvements in civic education, academic accommodations for those who need it, and strong in-school support systems.
Discussion also highlighted the need and want for credible messengers as a replacement for punitive disciplinary practices and pushed for education to be a far more open practice where students have the ability and access to pursue their interests.
Issue areas that participants expressed the most interest in:
- Transforming the youth legal system
- Supporting young people with disabilities
- Providing more mental health supports for young people
- Transforming the child welfare system
- Addressing youth homelessness
- Better preparing young people for life after high school (career & life skills)
Youth Summit Continues—Will You Join Us?
Thank you to everyone who participated in our first session of the Youth Summit! To learn more about the Summit—including the other sessions on August 17 and 31—visit our event webpage and register!