We often talk about youth in future terms. You’ve probably heard or use terms like “the next generation” or “future leaders” but the reality is that if we really want to build to last, we need to have those who are inheriting the future involved right now. This isn’t just more equitable – it’s more effective. True youth engagement is an untapped potential for shifting power and transforming systems
Today, we’re going to be speaking with two Lisa Marie Gomez, Senior Director of Collaborative Action at UP Partnership and Olivia Allen, Strategy Director at Children’s Funding Project, about what youth engagement can really look like and how it can lead to better use of public resources.
Hello, I’m Josh Davis from StriveTogether, your host again, for today’s episode of Together for Change. Here we share expert perspective on what’s possible in communities and how we can work together to build to last, we’re gonna unpack this idea of building to last from a different angle. We often think of building as a future action, something that we’re going to do. But building requires active engagement in the present. It is not a future tense verb. It is an action of the moment. In other words, it is happening right now, in the same kind of way we often talk about youth in future terms. You’ve probably heard of our terms, like the next generation of future leaders. But the reality is that we really want to build the last. We need to have those who are inheriting the future involved right now. This isn’t just more equitable. It’s more effective. True youth engagement is an untapped potential for shifting power and transforming systems. And today, we’re going to be speaking with Lisa Marie Gomez, Senior Director of Collaborative Action Partnership, and Olivia Allen, Strategy Director at Children’s Funding Project, about what youth engagement can really look like and how it can lead to better use of public resources. So let’s get started. Lisa, and Olivia, welcome to Together for Change.
Hi, thanks for having us.
Hello. Nice to be here.
So Olivia and Lisa, I want to get started with a simple question. Tell me what is your why? What’s your why for the work that you take up?
I started in a juvenile justice and delinquency prevention and mental and behavioral health school based diversion program background, because I think growing up, I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is now semi-infamous for the racism that I grew up witnessing. And it was a very frustrating environment to grow up in for anybody paying attention to the systems of punishment that we used to control youth behavior. And so to have justice and delinquency prevention was always an area where I felt like there needed to be so much obvious change. And I needed to understand why it wasn’t happening. And in doing that work, financing was a huge piece of why we weren’t able to move from more punitive systems of youth development to more supportive systems of youth development. And so I joined Elizabeth Gaines, in working on the Children’s Funding Project where I feel like I get to work on one of the key roots of the problem, and on child and youth strategies and solutions much more broadly. So that’s kind of my why.
So, my why for youth development, it’s very personal. And that, you know, I am from San Antonio, Texas. First in my family to go to college. And I’m the product of youth development programming with the YWCA. And so, you know, I grew up in, in a household with, with both parents, but still a very, very conservative Latino background, where, you know, the expectation of me was to maybe go to school, to go to college, you know, somewhere here, like in San Antonio, not too far. And that was not anything near what I wanted to do. I wanted to do so much more. But I did not have any, I didn’t have any models. My parents were great, but they weren’t like models of like higher education and taking charge of your own life and making your own decisions about what you wanted to study or pursue. And so it was through youth development programs. It was through working with the YWCA. And it sounds so simple, but it was a volunteer there at the YWCA who eventually, you know, just tapped me and a couple of other teenagers and said, you know, like, hey, we want to, we want you to come up with a plan for partnering with City Year San Antonio. City Year San Antonio had just come to San Antonio. So the startup team was here so it was like in 94, 95, and this adult there at the time YWCA just brought that idea to this, to us young people and was like you create something. I’ll help you make it happen. But what do you all want? It was like this incredible moment of like, well wait, like you, you want us to create something? That sense of empowerment. And then he helped us form a partnership with City Year that eventually came up and, you know, turned into an organization called City Heroes, which was like a high school component of City Year, that went national for a while. And it was just the most mind blowing thing, because we were, you know, like, a bunch of young people where, you know, my family was like, yeah go to school, but go like, you know, here somewhere close by. And then I had this adult, say, like, no, you know, City Year, like, dude, come up with this idea. Oh, and then by the way, City Year’s creating a site up in Cleveland, Ohio, why don’t you go out there. And so I spent, after I graduated from high school, like three years, two years serving with City Year, and then one year serving with AmeriCorps and Triple C. And in the south. I was based in the southeast region of the US in Charleston, South Carolina. And so like, for me, like I said, my parents were very supportive, to a certain extent, but truly, like, the country, like doing what I really wanted to do didn’t seem accessible until I had these adults that were like, no, you can, of course, you can do it. Of course, you could, yeah, this opportunity, it’s for you to, like, here’s how you can do it. And so I think about like, I’m not special in any way. And I’ve had since then, I’ve lived all over the country. You know, did my undergrad, like started in Santa Fe, finished in California. Travelled around the world. Did my Master’s in Japan. Worked for the UN, like all all kinds of amazing things. And I know other Brown women, other, you know, Black and Brown young people here in San Antonio, it means something to have somebody that looks like them, and comes from a similar place to be able to say, yeah, you can, of course you can do this. So like, that’s one side. The other side is like, youth, young people, I mean, they know what’s up. They know, it’s like so much other, like, community organizing, humanitarian management, all that stuff, like young people know what they need, they know what they need. And there are, they go through a lot, especially this pandemic, oh, my gosh, like young people have have grown up in a lot of ways they know what they need. And for adults to think that we all can make the best decisions for young people, or that we can project what young people need, like, as a, as a whole. It’s not the way to build something to last. So it was kind of long winded, but I just I believe so much in young people.
I think there was a wonderful way to get started. I think, you know, my quick read and observation, as I listened to both you and Olivia talk about your why, is I was recognizing along the spectrum of ways and people that proactively look for the methods to engage you. You’re both sitting in different places. You know, Lisa, there’s this lived experience that transcends countries and picks up different skills, and continues to show up in your professional capacity now. And Olivia, there’s this really early onset adoption of, there is this importance to have collective wisdom, regardless of age, be a part of the solution orientation. And in a very technical sense, aiming at resources from a financial standpoint, and where you’re plugging in there. I didn’t know y’alls story but I love the marriage of thinking about along that continuum and how you all are fulfilling a role and we need that full continuum in this work. And, Lisa, you said something that I have also said in the past, and I’ve had to think about what that means, you know, my experience as a Black male growing up in Mississippi and the trajectory to where I am now. I’ve also felt that I wasn’t special along that way. But the truth is, I really am special because I had breaks. I had opportunities that were afforded to me because of personal relationships. And that’s exactly what the three of us are trying to break down. And so while we carry that feeling of not feeling special or deserving enough, beyond the folks in our communities. You know, the sad truth is there was something that was special about our situation, which is why I think we’re having this conversation. How does that become the norm? And how is their intention behind creating these equitable opportunities for all kids. And so that really, really, really resonated with me. So at least I want to ask you about Our Tomorrow. I’d love for our audience to step more into what does, in Bexar County, Our Tomorrow present as a way of speaking toward youth engagement. And Olivia, I want to get you to follow up and talk a little bit about that partnership, but tell us what is Our Tomorrow? How did it get started, Lisa? What is it?
So Our Tomorrow is a fantastic network within, you know, under the partnership umbrella, which UP, you know, UP serves as the the backbone. And so we have networks that cover different areas, like My Brother’s Keeper Diplomas, which is focuses on Latinx students success. Excel Beyond the Bell, which focuses on youth development organizations. And then we have our network, Our Tomorrow, which is our youth voice and intergenerational network. It was established, I think it’s going into its third year. And so it’s a network that is really driven. The agenda, the initiatives are really driven by the use of Bexar County. And so it started out a little kind of small, but the network in itself, you know, they’re really focused on elevating the influence and creating spaces for young people in Bexar County, to be at decision making tables. And so there’s a few different areas that the youth have decided that they want to focus on. One is really with having their voice heard with school boards. And so they’re developing their advocacy agenda to approach. We have many, many school districts here in Bexar County. So to approach the school boards, to see how they can play a more active role in informing what is happening, like the decisions that school boards make, they have also taken a really strong stance on the need to increase access for mental and behavioral health services. And it’s really interesting, because they’ve asked very specifically for, like, they want to be able to access not just like, say, you know, therapy or ways to help themselves cope. But they also are specifically asking for ways that they can be trained that they can learn how to support their friends how to support their family, because they’re caring so much from just the relationships around them on top of just everything that that they’re feeling within themselves. And the other really awesome thing that Our Tomorrow, it has, has just taken on. It’s like the training that’s going to happen October 1st, is we received funding from Blue Meridian, and one of the items that we’re, we’ve taken on with the initiatives is to develop youth in philanthropy. And so this is, we have just put together a youth grant review committee. And then they are the ones that, they’ve created, you know, the applications for some grants that will go out to local high school students for, you know, for different student led initiatives. And there’ll be the reviewers, and they’re, we’re partnering with our local area foundation to do training in philanthropy. And so, there, it’s really interesting because the students are really excited. And also kind of like, they keep asking, like, were you really going to let us decide where, like, where this money goes? And we, yeah, like, don’t worry, we’re going to train you, you’re going to know what you’re doing, you know, don’t worry about it. So, so that’s really awesome. And then the last thing I’ll say is Our Tomorrow took on in partnership with our community learning department, a phenomenal youth participatory action research program this past summer, and that was specifically focusing on Summer Melt, which is, you know, students that they apply to a two or four year institution, they’re accepted, but they do not enroll. And so trying to figure out like, you know, what are some of the root, root causes of that drop off there? And so are young people, you know, they they worked in partnership with a local researcher from our anchor university here and went through an awesome, like treat research training program. And then they interviewed people. And they’ve put together a protocol, that we’re in the final stages of refining and designing to then release that has very specific localized recommendations from our young people about how to keep young people how to help them, you know, make that transition from acceptance to enrollment. So that should be released pretty soon here. And that’s what you know, that’s what our young people are doing here.
And I just want to highlight really quick, one of the examples that was just shared, that you said, mental health is both individualized therapy or supportive resources for them, but also ways to support their community, because we commissioned a poll in our 501c4 organization, a national poll just last month. And one, I think the top thing that this bipartisan, large sample of national voters was concerned about what’s youth mental health? And that has skyrocketed to the top of that poll, a poll that just came out in Michigan, every poll we’re seeing, you know, we’re used to seeing childcare or universal preschool, but this has skyrocketed to the top. And on a call where we were presenting that, a bunch of experienced youth advocates said, well, what is your mental health? What what do people think are the solutions and I think the difference between youth engagement and kind of top down prescriptive adult only decision making is that we have a habit of just pushing programs and services, and deciding what services youth need. And I think it’s really important that we think about the fact that there’s almost nowhere in this country where you provide youth peer to peer community building mental health programming that’s different than, you know, an individualized service or program. And there’s a bunch of examples like that. But I think that’s a really good example of where the adults are kind of stuck, and would normally just throw a bunch of programs or Medicaid funded services at the problem and get the thing actually, this is a big community impacts that we’re seeing from our peers mental health. And you know, my friend’s calling me saying, you know, they’re having a crisis, and I’m not a crisis hotline worker, how do I support them? And I just think that’s a great example of, right now, engagement solutions to some of the problems we’re all facing.
Yeah. Olivia, so how are you all at Children’s Funding Project connected to the work in Bexar County through Our Tomorrow?
Yeah, so we have known Ryan Lugalia-Hollon at UP partnership for years now and when, predating our organization being independent, we had a relationship with Ryan. And so the UP Partnership work that we’ve been doing was scoped out as a three or so year plan a full three years ago, and was one of our first projects as an independent organization. And the scope of this project is really the core elements of the work that we do at Children’s Funding Project, to help communities strategically finance a whole ecosystem of supports and opportunities that children and youth need to thrive. So to accomplish the goals of UP Partnership and Our Tomorrow, where kids grow up academically prepared, college and career ready, healthy, connected, academically successful, I think I got them all meeting with us. So we had, you know, kind of just a contract with Our Tomorrow. But it’s been different than other contracts, because there’s such a strong commitment and vision at Our Tomorrow to doing the really hard user engagement work. And where that piece often falls off for other policy efforts, Our Tomorrow and UP Partnership really have the infrastructure built in. So when we wanted to engage youth in our fiscal mapping process, Our Tomorrow had the infrastructure built in and was willing to pay for, of course that’s what I noticed that the Children’s Funding Project was willing to pay for and put staff time on training use, having me come in, back when I flew and in person and trained youth on budgeting and what we were even going to be talking about in the fiscal mapping meetings and then provided support and stipend then to youth to actually be in the fiscal mapping and alignment meetings that we were doing and to work with UP to set norms for the career adults in the room on how they shouldn’t use so many acronyms and should spell things out because not only for the use of the room but for anyone in the room who’s in a different systems than they are career wise or anyone who is coming from a different point of view. So we’ve kind of gone deeper and deeper with Our Tomorrow in working on developing this ecosystem financing. And it’s kind of shifted a little bit, obviously, with the pandemic, and all the federal relief funding. But the the core relationship has really stayed the same, the core goal has stayed the same. And it’s been, I feel like definitely one of those contracts where I learned definitely as much and developed as much as I feel like I’m providing technical assistance, and it feels a little bit like they’re paying us but I’m getting as much in return. So that’s been that’s been kind of the relationship over the past couple of years.
Yeah, I’m so just jazzed about this conversation. I have three daughters. One is a freshman, studying public policy leadership, a junior in high school, and a seventh grader. And I can just imagine if they had opportunities to plug into the crafting of their community, how they would lean into this. So like this part of the conversation, I’ve got two questions to go a little bit deeper. So Lisa, I want to queue up something that I want you to think about, and Olivia, I’m going to come to you first. But when Olivia mentioned the hard youth engagement, it was wonderful that you were able to give me and give the audience some examples of the fiscal mapping and the willingness of UP Partnership to stay engaged in that part. But, Lisa, the question that I was going to ask you, and I like for you to think about this is, you know, I’m certain that five years ago, Our Tomorrow didn’t exist in the form now. And I would love for you to talk about anything, give some thought to this, like, what did it take in order to make that gap closed between youth who already have ideas and thoughts and opinions of their own and are not afforded the opportunity to get from there to this place where they’re actually sitting at the decision making tables. And so I want you to think about it share with the audience in just a little bit like what, what was necessary in order to close that gap. But first, Olivia, I’m really interested in this arc, where you mentioned a three year plan, and you signed a three year contract, and you filled in some of the work that’s taking place. But in general, since you are a national organization, do you see an arc or a theme that is applicable in this type of a process, regardless of what community you’re in, where there’s something you have to build and seed on the front end? Before you can get to the place where actual policies and resources are changing? And is there anything that you all at Children’s Funding Project, have learned about that arc and the necessity of a, you know, a three year versus a five year plan? But give us a little bit of you all’s learnings and insights about their art, to go from planting the seeds and building on what currently exists or doesn’t exist, and then getting to this place where work is taking place in real time and policies and resources are moving in a more equitable fashion?
Absolutely. So our organizational culture is we really only hire people who are willing to be hyper flexible, and tailored to each community. So when we do a scope for a longer project like this, we do start out with a kind of framework. But we try really hard not to be prescriptive, or have a rigid model, because we found that when it comes to financing, in order to work with the diversity of communities in this country, a single model is not going to work. So the framework we use is essentially if you think about what’s the sort of wonky term, strategic finance planning, means it breaks down to some really simple questions that folks have to answer. How much are you spending? How much do you actually need? What would the full cost of achieving your goals be? What’s the gap? And what can you use to fill that gap? So people come to us with all different levels of answers to those questions. And in some cases, where folks have a policy opportunity, we move really quickly to help them fill in some of the answers to those questions. And I would say the process for that is a lot less research heavy and a little more, you know, kind of quick as you can. But in places like San Antonio, where we have a little bit more time, and San Antonio has enough groundwork laid and practice to really dive in deeply and it’s kind of already done some quick fixes to things. It’s really, I mean, it’s kind of a fun opportunity to see the whole process that works. San Antonio is a really good example, where we started with, how much are we spending? We started with looking at, at the federal, state, city, county and philanthropic level what money is coming into San Antonio and Bexar County for the range of programs and services that make up kind of the ecosystem kids need to thrive. So for after school and out of school time for child care, or violence and gang prevention for, you know, more punitive, juvenile justice diversion, all those different problems, services, how much are we spending, and that’s a long process because nobody organizes their budget currently… that’s not true actually, there’s like, three places that do but almost nowhere organizes their budget around kids. So it’s very hard to know how much is being spent on kids. There’s a couple organizations, at First Focus on Children, creates an amazing children’s budget, from the federal budget. And we and one or two other organizations work on creating, you know, state children’s budgets and local children’s budgets. But it’s really hard. When you have a community like San Antonio, that’s creating great strategic plans and setting goals for kids, it’s really hard to then know how you’re going to finances goals if you don’t know what’s currently being spent. And then we did in the midst of the kind of beginning of the pandemic we did six months, big tent alignment process, where, okay, now we know how much we’re spending on different pieces. But how much do we want to spend on those pieces? And what’s the priority? Believe it or not, we have as wide of a net and wide of a scope as Our Tomorrow and UP Partnership do. There’s a lot of different things to estimate model costs for and prioritize. So that’s a big facilitated process. And then now we’re at the point of, okay, how are we going to fill those gaps? What funding? Or can we use to fill those gaps. And originally, our plan was to work on identifying innovative revenue, public revenue streams, and ways to kind of increase and improve the amount of funding going to those things. But with the pandemic, and all the federal really funding, the new priority has been okay, what do we recommend that the city and county spend, and schools spend any discretionary funding on for kids? And that’s a big question. Because, you know, if you’re thinking right now, in your community, what would you spend that on? How would you figure out what to spend that on? Who would you have to engage? To answer those questions? The fiscal mapping and alignment processes really set us up to answer those questions in a community informed way. So the timing of San Antonio has almost been as like a, you know, maybe I am in a simulation, somebody is writing this as a script, because this is all working out a little too neatly, to be perfect timing. So that’s kind of the scope and arc of that big project and the different kind of tasks we do and other places as well.
Before I take up the next question, Lisa, Olivia can I get you to quickly offer what is your hypothesis for why budgets are not built around children?
Oh, there’s so many levels of politicization I can get into with that question. But we’ve gotten more and more suspicious at CFP as we’ve gone on, that there’s an intentional nature to the disconnect between the budget process and what people actually want. One of the one of the things that working with UP Partnership and Our Tomorrow has made me want to run away to do is start, you know, a civics Tiktok or do a whole, you know, Instagram, public campaign around civics, because when we’re in the room, in a training session with the youth from Our Tomorrow, I standing at a blackboard, saying, okay, this is step one of the budget process. This is what the budget looks like. And the youth in the room, were I immediately identifying all the problems and issues and things that didn’t make sense and questions we would ask. It took them 10 minutes, whereas I sat in a room of the budget officers of different agencies in a city hall a year earlier, and I gave that same presentation, and everyone in the room looked at me blankly like I was bananas. So I think there is so much potential that we don’t even try to tap to improve the system. We don’t even go near getting youth the amount of civic knowledge they need to participate in their own democracy in their own communities, which they’re screaming for, begging us for opportunities to do. And to me, it started to feel really intentional, because people who gain a lot of power, don’t want to share that power, because they have a scarcity mindset and are afraid of relinquishing power. And that’s one of the things that’s most helpful for me about youth right now is I think they can see the amount of abundance that we have, have a little bit less of a scarcity mindset and are a little more able to see that interdependence can be really positive and helpful. Because it’s happening anyway, you’re already impacted by the mental health of your friend. So you might as well commit to that interdependent and commit to learning how to support that friend, rather than just trying to ignore and build wall and wall and wall up between you and other people, in your classroom, or in your city or in your country. So to me, it feels like an intentional way to maintain power for the class of people in this country who have and continue to keep, hoard, as much power and wealth as they can.
Olivia, thank you for your your candid answer on that. You know that this is the Together for Change podcast. And, you know, we’re not proposing that any of us created this, this world that we live in right now. But here’s where we are. And so I really appreciate you offering what your observation and what your opinion is about what sort of keeps us from having this universal acceptance of what may seem like common sense to some and maybe not so much of a direct go to solution for others, at least, I want to turn to you and ask you, you know, to take up that question that I posed to you earlier is in San Antonio, and in Bexar County, you know, what were the things that were necessary to help close this gap between disengagement? Tell us a little bit about what that arc was like, what was necessary?
Well, first of all, thank you very much for giving me some time to get my thoughts together, I really appreciate that. First and foremost, there is still like more of the gap to fill when it comes to youth engagement. But I mean, truly what it took, you know, there was, there used to be, actually there still is, like a San Antonio youth council, that is under the city council and the mayor. It’s like one of the youth commission, I’m sorry. So when UP Partnership decided that they wanted to create, this was before I joined the organization, but they wanted to create a network for youth. They, they, you know, approached this young, this group of youth that were part of this, you know, mayor’s commission, or I forget exactly, the San Antonio Youth Commission. And those young people were really clear that their service, and that on the commission, was very unsatisfying, because they felt like they didn’t really have a seat at any table. And their input wasn’t really validated. They felt very much like, we’re here, but we don’t do anything annd that’s, we want to do something. You know, they just, they needed support. And so, you know, when UP Partnership created a dedicated position, a network manager specifically to work with young people to work with our local high schools, you know, our school districts to help, and then are also our youth development organizations to do that outreach about joining, you know, being part of this, this group. So it took a dedicated person, that this was their job, and that person was not going to be, you know, because UP Partnership created that that position, you know, there it’s like our person is not, it’s not encumbered by like, if there’s a mayoral change, or any of the politics and there are certainly politics, of course, but I mean, like the changing politics with new mayors and new council, people, all that stuff. So having that at the backbone, I would say, it also just took, you know, having leadership, you know, with our Executive Director, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, who was, I mean, just willing to be very deliberate about sharing power with youth, and also teaching adults how to share power with youth. And that includes ourselves, you know, like recognizing, you know, we need to learn how to do this and then we need to model it. And so having that like from the top with this very strong commitment to, to giving the youth the tools that they need to be successful. So for example, like with the youth grant committee that they’re serving on, they are going to get training from our local experts on philanthropy, and like the process of all of the ethics and the processes behind doing like a grant review, when we have our Youth Policy Institute, we have, you know, different stakeholders from the community that come. It’s like, you know, what Olivia was saying, she presented to the youth, we have that, you know, same thing where, you know, I’ve given them workshops on like, strategic communication, we have data folks that come in and teach the young people about one where to look for valid data points, and then how to reference a data point in whatever it is that you know, that they’re interested in. So we give them all of those tools. And, you know, we make that, it’s like, recognizing that the youth, like, just like Olivia said, the youth, they are hungry, they are asking, like to be at the table. They’re so, I know like our young people, they’re like, don’t ask me what I think about something, ask me to come to the table and give me something to do, because I’m tired of being asked. And it may show up in a survey somewhere. And then what, like, if I’m giving you my, like, my time and my insight, I want to be part of the work, which is awesome. But they also want that, like that authentic help. That authentic just development so that they can build out their comfort with, with doing the work, whether it’s putting policy memos, or reviewing budgets or looking for data. The last thing that I will say, which is much more just like logistical, but super important, and that is it takes working with young people in an authentic way where you’re going to share power and influence. It absolutely takes being flexible with your scheduling. So adults who, you know, we work in positions where typically, you know, we work from Monday through Friday, anywhere between, you know, like 40, 50 hours a week, during, you know, these times, we have to be willing as adults to meet from 5:30 to 7 at night. Some of the trainings that we do with the young people. We do them on Saturdays. Like you have to be willing to be flexible and meet young people where they’re at. And also, like, especially during the pandemic, I mean, we had a couple of initiatives that we’ve just had to like change the timeline on because the youth have said, they’re doing the work, they’re doing the planning, and they, they know, they can come to a planning meeting and say, I could I can’t, I couldn’t get this done, because I’ve got midterms next week, or because you know, I have whatever going on with my family, I’m not going to be able to do this. And alright, like, let’s be flexible. Let’s change the deadline. We don’t need to add this additional stress or make you feel like you’re failing, or like no, we’re going to, we’re going to clear that space for you so that you can be your best and you can give your best and you feel comfortable and you feel good and confident coming into this space with whatever it is you’re planning.
Olivia, I saw you jotting down notes. Is there anything that you want to add to and build on to what Lisa was sharing with us so that the work to close that gap in Bexar County?
Yeah, I was just thinking about how hard this work is. And that I think inertia is a very powerful force. And, you know, that’s what I go back and forth on between kind of how intentional in that is this kind of powerlessness of youth versus how much is it just inertia? Because the work that Lisa Marie is describing is incredibly hard. Just giving a presentation to use is incredibly hard. I never feel qualified to do it. I always feel like there are a million things I would change whereas at this point presenting to adults, usually a couple notes for myself, but you know, I can do that without warning. And youth is a whole different ballgame. And I was just thinking that it’s a lot like doing the actual work of youth engagement is a lot like doing any equity work, doing even just kind of personal anti racism work at work, for example, right? You have to I think we struggle with the fact that making a change, you know as adults in power, as career professionals or as a white person at an organization means giving up some of your power in recognition that your power is disproportionate and not deserved. And that you would, because you would like a more equitable environment. And so adults have to do things like, give up power over the timeline on some of this work. Give up the power over decision making on some philanthropic work, and accept the results of that, you know, that we have to give us opportunities to fail as well, you know? We see adults fail all the time at projects, you know, there’s bridges and buildings falling down, right, that had, were paid millions of dollars to make. So also making space to have sacrificed a bunch or had to alter your power structure a bunch for you to participate. And then knowing that sometimes it’s not gonna be done the way you want, and it’s not going to be done, you know, the way you think it should have been done, or it won’t be perfect or something will go wrong. But knowing that increasing the balance of power is kind of more important, and it’s going to pay huge dividends in the long run as well.
I think you all have been masterful at starting with simplicity, moving to what’s complex about this work, and I want to, I want to close out this conversation, in the spirit of really meeting people where they are. And Olivia, your naming how hard this work is, reminds me of the saying that we all know in this work, is the rhetorical question, how do you eat an elephant? It’s one bite at a time. And so to close out this episode, I’ve got a two part prompt, and an option. I’d like for each of you to offer a challenge one to youth and one to adult leaders in the spirit of meeting folks where they are. What’s the one step, what is the challenge that you would issue to both youth and adult leaders if they’re listening to this podcast, to move that inertia into a position so that maybe they would progressively move closer to meaningful youth engagement? And then the optional response is anything that you would like to leave just with our audience about your work in general about, you know, a prospective piece of advice. But tell us what is the challenge that you would offer to youth, to adult leaders? And then anything that you want to share just for the good of the order?
Oof, that’s a tough one, and I know you’ll want second so I will do my fastest run just knowing that Lisa Marie is going to come up with a better one. But think for youth? Try not to let the evaluation of other people steer you off course. It’s okay to take in what other people are suggesting about how well you’re doing something. Or whether you should or shouldn’t be doing something, and turn it around in your hands and think about it and think about whether that feels like you know, valid criticism or valid critique. But it’s a, I wish I had learned much earlier that there are so many problems that none of the adults know how to solve. And your contributions, just in the questions you ask, the creativity, you bring the new way you think of things, you’ll hear a lot of noes from a lot of new people. So find the people who say, even when they’re pointing out a kind of a hole and how things are gonna work to people who say yes, and encourage you to keep asking those questions. Just knowing that there’s going to be a mountain of pushback, just from all over the place from all sorts of people in your networks. And knowing that that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop. I think, you know, youth are used to following directions and listening for feedback and getting report cards and it’s important to uncouple yourself a little bit from that feedback sometimes. And then for adults, it’s a little bit easier. Think about where you are hoarding power. That sounds like kind of a harsh way to put it but it’s just blunt. Think about where you’re hoarding power in your work, where you feel sensitive about giving up control. That’s only my advice for people doing this work, because that’s something I have to think about and work on intentionally all the time. And if you have any tips on it, send them my way. Could always, could always use them. And then on our organization, I would just say, if you have no idea how certain parts of your work are financed, you know, check out Children’s Funding Project, start asking questions about the financing, start asking does it have to be this way? The answer is almost always no, it doesn’t have to be this way. So I think if you’re interested in getting kind of empowered around the financing, and being given the skills, you need to ask those questions. That’s, that’s kind of our bread and butter. And that’s what I find to be a powerful niche. But that doesn’t mean that has to be what you find. So if you’re interested, that’s where resources are.
And Lisa, we’ll let you have the closing words, your two challenges and anything else that you’d want to share.
So my challenge to youth would be to, like, to recognize, like recognize your own power, and recognize that you are the experts of your own lives and your lived experience, no matter what it is, it’s valuable, and it’s valid. And it’s important. So that’s first thing. Second thing I would say is, like, as a challenge for you, is to get involved in anything, just get involved with some, any kind of organization and commit to that, and then just pay it forward as you move, you know, out of, out of, you know, being a youth into being like this, you know, young adult, like pay it forward, and come back and be that mentor, be that person that you wanted. There’s just so much power to that. For the last piece of that, I guess the last challenge for youth would be to just to recognize that change, even though change doesn’t happen quickly, it is always still worth the fight. Even if you are not the one that’s going to be able to benefit from it, it still means something. And if you, you know, you might, you win some and you lose some. But it doesn’t, like, how many you lose, it doesn’t matter. Like it just, it doesn’t, don’t keep that tally, and celebrate, like every victory, because it’s worth the fight. For adults, my challenge to adults is to, it’s sort of like the other side of, of maybe like the, the softer side of what Olivia was saying, is just like for adults, like just recognize that one, youth very often want the same things that adults want. And approaching youth as the other. It’s not the, it’s not the way to start a partnership with youth. And so the challenge is just to, to check that, you know, any kind of assumptions or preconceived notions about, you know, youth being out to just, you know, rail against adults, or rally against anything that adults say, is not, it’s not fair and it’s not, certainly not the way to get to the best results, like sharing that power in an authentic way. Is it, I mean, it just, it truly is like the best way to build resilience, to bet, the best way to like, if you truly care about your community as a whole, having young people that are centered in their power, and are grounded in their own abilities to like, to, to to make change, and to also like, you know, see their, their responsibility to others in their community is, is so powerful. And I think, you know, that would also be my, my challenge to us too, is that adults are not always like on the other side. Like sometimes, you know, when we did the political training, I mean, Texas is a very Republican dominated state, so that’s not like a political statement at all. That’s just like, how it is here in Texas. I’ll just tell the young people, it doesn’t like, don’t think about, you know, when you’re advocating for something at the state level, don’t think about the party line. You know, don’t think, well, I don’t want to talk to this person, because they’re Republican or this person, because they’re a Democrat, like, take that and find out like, what is at the center there because you can dance with everybody. And that really is the best way to to move things forward. So and I think adults could certainly learn to use that too. Yeah, I mean, in terms of like the continued work with Children’s Funding Project, we’re really on the cusp of making some, you know, taking this work, this fiscal work to a whole different level with making even more specific recommendations for our community to co-invest the funds for this that are all around like youth outcomes for the sake of, of San Antonio and Bexar County’s future. And so that is very, very real. There’s co-investment across different jurisdictions and municipalities. It’s a smart way for any government to, to think about, like, what are we going to do with this moment? And how are we going to turn all of the turmoil that we have just endured in our people have just endured into something that makes it all worth it for our young people.
This discussion has definitely made me feel a little bit lighter today. Olivia, it was wonderful to see you again. And Lisa, it was great to meet you. I’ve been an admirer of the work in Bexar County over the last three years. And I’m really looking forward to setting my feet down in San Antonio, in Bexar County for the first time ever at some point in the next year. And so really, really appreciate you all’s time, your candidness and the commitment that you have to contributing in your roles in this word. And so to our audience, thank you for joining us today. Stay connected with us by visiting strivetogether.org where you will find transcripts of our Together for Change podcast series.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai