Valuing Voice: Youth Planning Team Members Share Their Hopes and Expectations for YLI 2019
Since 2013, CYCLE staff have been responsible for the design and facilitation of an annual Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) for Nellie Mae Education Foundation grantees. Over the years, the convening has grown to include over 150 youth and adult allies from more than 20 organizations and school districts from across New England. At CYCLE, one of the values we hold dear is “Voice,” which we take to mean that the perspectives and experiences of people most affected by an issue must be at the center of finding and implementing solutions. In education, the people most affected are youth and families (particularly those who are low-income and of color), and educators. As we strive to do our work in ways that explicitly reflect our values, after the first YLI, we have supported the development of a Youth Planning Team (YPT) that makes important decisions to plan and design the institute. This year, for the first time, YPT members will also be playing lead facilitation roles at the event!
In February 2019 the CYCLE staff selected 12 students from all over New England to be a part of the YPT for the Youth Leadership Institute 2019. This team will plan and implement YLI in partnership with CYCLE staff and got the ball rolling with a YPT Retreat in Providence in March. Jnanarisvanthi Athina from The Connecticut Youth Forum and Shawn Brooks from Hearing Youth Voices are both current members of the YPT and they share some of their hopes and expectations for YLI this year.
Why were you interested in being part of the Youth Planning Team this year?
Jnana: I was interested in being a part of the Youth Planning Team this year because of the various opportunities that it has provided me. This involved the opportunity to meet other youth leaders who were interested in social justice and came from different schools and environments. It gave me the opportunity to explore the concepts of power and privilege while communicating with adults about downfalls that young people face in their daily lives. We were given the opportunity to design and innovate a conference meant to empower young people and bring them out of their comfort zone.
Shawn: I was interested in being part of the Youth Planning Team this year because I attended YLI for the first time two years ago and was inspired by the young people who were as passionate about social justice as I was. I knew I wanted to impact the lives of young people even greater and equip them with the tools to be active in their communities and organizations. I knew exactly that I could do this if I was on the Youth Planning Team. This is my 2nd year on YPT. I am truly grateful for the experience because the folks on the team aren’t just friends but life-long family. The connections I have made with other youth in just a year allowed me to appreciate the Youth Planning Team because the relationships I have made are endless.
What is your biggest hope for the Youth Leadership Institute this year?
Jnana: I hope that the youth organizations have the opportunity to collaborate and share their visions for empowerment. I would really like the youth members to continue to explore their communities and have deep, envisioning conversations about educational justice. I want students to feel comfortable with talking about issues in their schools so that they can be offered possible solutions and initiatives from adults and other students.
Shawn: My biggest hope for the Youth Leadership Institute this year is that it’s an adult ally and youth friendly environment. I hope that adult allies and youth can join together to have a productive and positive space for each other. I hope that the YPT members can make their own accountabilities and group agreements among the adults in their affinity spaces, to make the youth feel as comfortable as possible. Another hope I have for YLI is that youth and organizations benefit from attending the conference and where the ideas they learned can help their organization. Another hope is to have YLI very organized this year so that both adults and youth know the flow of the workshops, plenary, etc. This year an app is incorporated instead of binders, which I think is very helpful.
What are you excited about for the Youth Planning Team/YLI this year?
Jnana: I am excited to be a part of the Youth Planning Team this year. I loved meeting my fellow teammates and sharing our own experiences. I am overjoyed that the youth have been given more power this year, especially in the hiring process of facilitator fellows and coordinating with other adults to work together to run small group discussions. I can’t wait to see what this year holds at YLI and who I’ll end up meeting!
Shawn: I’m excited to work with new individuals that I haven’t worked with before. Attending the YPT retreat allowed me to feel their energies, and, honestly, it is an awesome group. The chemistry was instant from the start. I am excited that I can give my expertise in planning YLI since I was a part of YPT last year. Working alongside former YPT members from last year really motivates me to make sure I put my all as a YPT member. I can’t wait to meet new people from all the organizations at YLI.
Visit the Youth Leadership Institute’s website to get exciting information on the event and be sure to check out the Youth Planning Team’s biography section to get to know the rest of the Youth Planning Team for YLI 2019.