In mid-December 2017, young leaders from across the country – members of OYU’s Community Action Teams (CATs) and OYU Community Leaders – met in Boston for the first-ever CAT retreat.
I was one of several members of the National Council of Young Leaders who also attended the retreat. It was amazing. The knowledge and practices shared are definitely lessons that I can take back to my work in Atlanta.
Community Action Teams are the grassroots organizing arm of OYUnited. Groups of young leaders from local youth-serving organizations come together to uplift the issues affecting low-income communities, to promote the Recommendations for Increasing Opportunity and Decreasing Poverty in America, to make their voices heard with elected officials, to mobilize their peers to be informed voters, and to advocate for their priority issues while serving their communities in a variety of ways.
This was the first time many of the CAT leaders met each other in person. There were about 30 young leaders in the room, representing OYU’s CATs in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Seattle. Leaders from Columbus, Ohio also participated. (OYU also has a CAT in New York but its members were unable to participate.)
Here’s what I love about OYU: We are a solutions-oriented movement of young adults who have experienced poverty and are dedicated to creating a society with opportunity and responsibility, love and respect, education and employment, justice and equality for all. We are Black, White, Native American, Latino, Asian, and Mixed Heritage. We are from all different religions, genders and sexual preferences, from both urban and rural areas.
In this two-day retreat, we learned specific skills to help us make our vision a reality across America.
Learning Fiscal Mapping
A highlight of the retreat was the fiscal mapping training we received. Elizabeth Gaines and Olivia Allen, trainers from the Forum for Youth Investment, walked us through how city and state budgets are made and how government agencies propose funding for local activities.
Using skits, we acted out and visualized how to understand and influence funding decisions. We learned about communities where advocates have successfully increased funding for programs for young people.
Looking at Boston’s fiscal year budget.
My take-away: the number of people engaged in advocacy counts. Be specific and use your political muscle.
As young leaders, we can follow our city and state budget process by going online, and then pitch a budget increase for the things that we are passionate about. We can bring information to decisionmakers one by one and also use public hearings as a way to have our questions answered and voices heard.
OYU National Council of Young Leaders member Jamiel Alexander during the training.
Building Our Movement, Planning for 2018
Later on that first day, we traveled to the Boston-based organization, Teen Empowerment, for more training. We paired off with the people who live and are doing work in our cities. Together, we brainstormed our plans and priorities for 2018, and then reported to everyone about our key activities. It was energizing and concrete.
Working on our 2018 local action plans.
On our last day in Boston, the CATs held a discussion about how they would like to mobilize, and how longer-standing CATs could assist newer groups that have recently joined OYU. One area we discussed: how to utilize social media to gain support and awareness.
We shared the history of OYU and the CATs, and discussed how to define what it means to be an effective CAT. We had another brainstorming session on how to organize our CATs.
At the end of the final day, we reported out on the ideas that we are each taking back to our cities and how to leverage the connections we made during this retreat when we all go back to our communities.
We’re ready for 2018!
Shanice Turner is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders and a founding member of Opportunity Youth United, and is affiliated with the OYU Sponsoring Organization Year Up. 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).
Photo credits: Nancy Schieffelin and Shanice Turner (Twitter.com/@ShaniceSpeaks)