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.
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.
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.
I don’t believe I have ever felt so hopeful in such politically turbulent times.
On September 27, I traveled to Capitol Hill for the launch of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, a broad coalition of organizations that have come together to advocate for a solution to one of the biggest problems our country faces. There are currently 4.9 million young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working. We refer to these young people as “Opportunity Youth” for two reasons: they are seeking opportunity and they represent an untapped opportunity to employers and communities. They are individuals who want to contribute, who want a pathway to success and a strong future, but lack access to opportunity. Close to 3 million of these Opportunity Youth come from low-income families facing real systematic barriers.
At the same time, data from the Department of Labor released in June show that our nation has 6 million job vacancies. With the right supports, many Opportunity Youth could step up and fill these roles. What’s more, reconnecting a young person saves American taxpayers $65,000 over the course of that person’s career, and brings in an additional $105,000 in tax revenue. It really is a win-win.
Beyond the Numbers: Real Lives, Real Potential
To put it in perspective: across America, slightly more than 1 in 10 young people ages 16 to 24 are not in school and not working. Yet in many communities across the country, the numbers are much higher. In Southeastern Kentucky, where I’m from, the average is closer to 1 in 4 young people. This carries a social cost that goes beyond mere economics. A sense of hopelessness and helplessness is fueling increasing levels of crime and drug abuse in my area, and I believe it’s largely due to our inability to develop and provide pathways for young people.
That’s where the Reconnecting Youth Campaign: Unleashing Limitless Potential comes in. It is a federal advocacy campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding 1 million program slots for meaningful education, training, national service and employment opportunities each year for 16- to 24-year-olds.
There are numerous federally funded programs that are highly vetted, proven to work, and that provide these young people real pathways to reconnection. These evidence-based programs include WIOA Youth Services, Job Corps, YouthBuild, Service and Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps, National Guard Challenge Program, Reentry Employment Opportunities, and many others.
Together, such federally funded programs currently have slots for about 330,000 young people distributed in communities across the U.S. This amount doesn’t even come close to addressing the problem nor does it even come close to reaching some of the most vulnerable among us: youth in rural low-income communities.
In my region of Appalachia, for example, there is practically no program taken to scale for young people. And Appalachia is not alone. There are regions around this country that are isolated from any of these pathways for young people to turn their lives around and provide for their families.
I was lucky to connect with a YouthBuild AmeriCorps program. When I graduated from high school, I worked as a security guard at a coal mine. With the decline of the coal industry, I was laid off without options. Everyone was struggling to find work. A friend connected me to YouthBuild, where I built the foundation for my future. First, I studied to be a pharmacy technician and then went on to work myself into the middle class as a Medical Laboratory Technologist. After working a few years in the field, I realized that the most important thing in my life was to ensure that other people had the same opportunity I had. I’m now in graduate school studying public policy.
Coming Together to Urge Action
On that September Day, when I and other members of the Reconnecting Youth Campaign—some longtime advocates and others former Opportunity Youth like myself—met with Members of Congress on Capitol Hill, the question we received the most was, “How did you come together and why?” They were not used to meeting with so many individuals working across sectors on a single issue.
And it was the easiest answer: “This problem we face is bigger than any one of us.”
I have heard it said that politicians follow the wind: they go here and there, changing direction as the wind does. When we come together, when we stand united behind a common goal, we become the wind, forcing action. Our solutions come from a place of respect, love and positive movement, but we are determined. And that’s why I’m filled with such hope for our future.
Adam Strong is a founding Member of the National Council of Young Leaders and of Opportunity Youth United, a national youth-led movement to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America. He is currently working on his Masters of Public Policy from the University of New Hampshire.
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.
“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 oyunited.org!
Kimberly Pham and Jamiel Alexander
for the National Council of Young Leaders, Opportunity Youth United
“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.
My 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:
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 (http://www.childrenandnature.org/from-the-field-blog/) and is reprinted here with permission.
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!
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!
Through national and state reports, thematic briefs, and interactive websites, Measure of America aims to breathe life into numbers, using data to create compelling narratives that foster greater understanding of our shared challenges and greater support for people-centered policies. The Project was founded in 2006, and became an initiative of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in 2008. In addition, they provide easy-to-use yet methodologically sound tools for understanding the distribution of well-being and opportunity in America and stimulating fact-based dialogue about issues we all care about: health, education, and living standards.
Since the Measure of America first wrote about youth disconnection half a decade ago, public awareness of both the plight and the promise of young people who are not in either school or the workforce has grown by leaps and bounds. Support for alternative school-to-work pathways like apprenticeships and career-technical education have seen a resurgence, the business-led 100,000 Opportunities Initiative met its goal to hire 100,000 disconnected youth well ahead of schedule, and at the time of writing, the Opening Doors for Youth Act of 2016 was introduced in Congress to make available significant federal investment to reconnect young people to school and employment.
Thanks to a greatly improved economy and efforts like those described above, the country has made real progress in tackling this important issue; this is good news we should all celebrate. But challenges remain: 4.9 million young women and men are still disconnected from the educational and employment opportunities required for rewarding, productive lives. If all disconnected youth lived together in a single state, that state would have roughly the population of South Carolina or Colorado.
Promising Gains, Persistent Gaps: Youth Disconnection in America takes a look at who comprises this remaining group, what particular challenges they face, and what strategies have been shown to work.
Measure of America aims to breathe life into numbers, using data to foster understanding of our shared challenges and support for people-centered policies. They care about human development—the process of building people’s capabilities, improving their well-being, and expanding their opportunities to live freely chosen lives of value.
Young adulthood is when people develop many of the capabilities required to live a good life: knowledge and credentials, social skills and networks, a sense of mastery and agency, an understanding of one’s strengths and preferences, and the ability to handle stressful events and regulate one’s emotions, to name just a few. Measure of America is thus concerned with youth disconnection because it impedes human development, closing off some of life’s most rewarding and joyful paths and leading to a future of limited horizons.
Disconnected youth are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school and not working. The youth disconnection rate tells us a lot about the opportunities available to teens and young adults from different racial and ethnic groups and in different parts of the country. Understanding who disconnected youth are, the challenges they face, and where they live is the first step to helping them. Doing so is critical for all of us. Youth disconnection’s harms accrue not only to young people themselves, but also to society at large. Society pays a price in terms of reduced competitiveness, lower tax revenues, and higher health, social services, and criminal justice costs, to name just a few.
First, the good news: the national youth disconnection rate is falling! Fewer young people are cut off from school and work today than were before the Great Recession. The rate dropped 16 percent over five years, from 14.7 in 2010 in the aftermath of the Great Recession to 12.3 percent in 2015. This translates to roughly 900,000 fewer young people cut off from pathways that lead to independent, rewarding adulthoods.
Now, the bad news: youth disconnection is still a serious problem, with 4.9 million young Americans neither working nor in school. The gaps between racial and ethnic groups remain large; Native American, black, and Latino young people face higher disconnection rates than whites and Asian Americans at every income level. Place matters, too: the average disconnection rate in rural areas is much higher than in urban and suburban areas, and states, cities, and rural counties in the south tend to have higher rates than those in the north.
The maps and graphs on the interactive web page allow you to explore the latest youth disconnection data for yourself. What’s happening in your county? How are different racial and ethnic groups faring in your state? Which places are doing the best, and which ones are doing the worst? Are things getting better, and for whom? Find out!
If you want to understand more about youth disconnection, read Measure of America’s latest report, Promising Gains, Persistent Gaps: Youth Disconnection in America.
LAUNCHED MARCH 8, 2017 | MEDIA RELEASE
“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: bit.ly/2q8jfga
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.
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 BecauseTheyCan.com 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.
Opportunity Youth United is a national movement of young people and allies working to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America. It is supported by many sponsors, partners, and funders.