Youth Analysts Give Recommendations for Improving Youth Programs

By United Way of King County, on February 18, 2022 | In Covid-19, News, Racial Equity

The project is entitled “Youth Tell All: Youth Centered Analysis on Youth Development in King County” and it was created by five local BIPOC youth research analysts determined to force the nonprofit industry to examine its relationships to the young people whose growth and development it proports to prioritize. The five youth discussed the report’s findings and recommendations before a nationwide virtual audience on Wednesday night, but before delving deeply into the powerful paper, they offered two disclaimers:

No. 1: The report’s findings and recommendations are nothing new. Youth have been making similar cases for years, only to have their voices silenced or ignored.

No. 2: Youth will continue undeterred until something’s done about No. 1.

“Youth voices like mine are constantly dismissed, disregarded and devalued— especially BIPOC youth,” said McCoy-Irick Palma, a University of Washington student studying cybersecurity and one of the five youth research analysts who crafted the project. “The true significance of our work is not just telling you all this information, but sparking change, momentum and a discussion of what the youth want you all to know and how to act.”

The 14-page report culminates more than seven months of in-depth research, interviews with youth, adults and community leaders, analysis and documentation. Joining Palma in the endeavor were:

  • Tsion Debebe, a Running Start credit enrollment program student at Highline College and an intern at King County’s Department of Human Services.
  • Ruby Lee, a filmmaker and board member of AGE UP, a Seattle-area youth sports and leadership program.
  • Paris Bruner, a University of Washington graduate analyst at Accenture and organizer focused on houselessness work in Renton.
  • Noah Ajeto, community organizer working on mutual aid and survival programs in Auburn.

Wednesday’s virtual event was attended by 135 people, including lawmakers, superintendents, nonprofit CEOs and private funders. Also in attendance were youth from King County, Eastern Washington, New York and California.

This project is an extension of United Way of King County’s Reconnecting Youth Initiative—a communitywide approach to helping youth complete their education and achieve career paths. United Way partnered with Soar, a youth development and youth organizing nonprofit with a long history of youth reengagement, for the project. Two youth leaders and staff of Soar, Devan Rogers and Hikma Sherka, were selected as youth facilitators for the youth-led project. The report began amid the COVID-19 pandemic and served as a checkpoint for shared experiences during the pandemic.

Here are links to the report: a read aloud/along version, a visual brief, and the full version.

What can be done to support you? What needs to change? What can we learn moving forward, or improve?

Questions from the Youth Tell All report

The project’s goal was to ask young people: What can be done to better support you? What needs to change? What can we learn moving forward, or improve? Five recommendations emerged from the project:

  • Make young people integral to all decision making, implementation, evaluation and feedback processes. Young people, the report said, are often only included in one aspect of the decision-making process, often asked to only review, and without any follow-up. Youth want to be included in all aspects of the process—not to feel tokenized for their contributions. Ajeto said he regarded the recommendation as the most important. “Youth organizing and youth development need to be centered around youth voices, and oftentimes that gets ignored and neglected.”
  • It is vital to develop healthy and safe, as well as consistent, relationships with young people. “A lot of people said that their mentors weren’t always someone older than them, sometimes it was just someone you can go to and talk to,” said Bruner. “Even if that person didn’t have the answer to your question, they could help you troubleshoot it.”
  • Our decision makers should represent our communities. Said Lee: “All of the people my age and younger than I who really just need a space to process growing up in this community as a person of color, even specifically as an Asian person. It’s very necessary, especially when you are impacting a lot of people who are from these diverse communities and backgrounds you need people you can trust in those higher up positions.”
  • Build authentic relationships with our communities while centering the experiences of people most affected. “Our communities,” the report said, “are experts in the issues impacting us and what solutions do and don’t work.”
  • Pay youth for the ideas, time, labor and leadership they contribute to an organization. “Through some of my interviews, I saw that when youth first begin to work for nonprofits, they haven’t really had a lot of work experience, or they don’t have a lot of knowledge of fair and equitable pay,” said Debebe. “So, when nonprofits take advantage of that lack of knowledge and underpay them, [youth] don’t have any knowledge of how to advocate for themselves even if they wanted to. Organizations should be open and transparent about how they pay their youth.”

The report called on mainstream institutions to use the report as a talking point to a larger organizational and systemic shift in centering work authentically within BIPOC communities, especially BIPOC youth.

It appears their messages resonated with some who attended. The youth were subsequently asked to provide consultation to organizations implementing BIPOC work, and they were asked permission to use quotes from the report in training models.

Beginning in 2022, United Way, King County’s Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account (PSTAA), and the Department of Community and Human Services will implement a $100,000 per year participatory grantmaking fund led and owned by youth (Youth Council) to identify one issue area on which to focus to help close the opportunity gap. This work will support the Love & Liberation program at United Way that is spearheaded by 14 BIPOC-led nonprofits doing similar work to close the educational racial opportunity gap in King County.

I keep telling folks time and time again that the most critical voices for change are young people of color.

Ruel Olanday Jr., United Way co-associate director for education strategies

I keep telling folks time and time again that the most critical voices for change are young people of color,” said Ruel Olanday Jr., United Way co-associate director for education strategies. “If you needed a sign to make changes, it’s now. Now as the pandemic continues to widen the gap of racism. Now with the urgency of BIPOC young people telling you this is it. Here, here is the how!”


Denise Perez Lally
February 26, 2022

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