Voice of youth helps shape work of Made in Durham

April 23, 2018
Youth Network member Keyvon Washington, left, talks with fellow Advisory Team members.

Advisory Team works to create an authentic youth/adult partnership

The voice and perspective of Durham’s young people gained permanent representation on Made in Durham’s Advisory Team April 11 when members of the Made in Durham Youth Network took their seats as full members of that team.

It was a key step forward in creating an authentic youth/adult partnership that will ensure Durham youth help shape the education-to-career system Made in Durham partners design to serve them.

“I encouraged them not to try to impress the adults, but to be themselves, the way they talk and act in the Youth Network,” said Dan McKinney, Made in Durham’s youth engagement strategist, who coordinates the Youth Network and has worked for months preparing both youth and adults for this interaction.

Voice of Youth

(From left) Madeleine Yancy and Sachdeep Singh also represent youth on the Advisory Team, along with Ghasan Ahmed (not pictured).

“In Youth Network meetings, they own that space,” McKinney said. “They talk confidently and their brilliance shines through. But when they get with adults, a lack of confidence may keep them from sharing their brilliance and ideas.”

Based on reactions at the initial meeting, the preparation paid off.

“We’ve been waiting on this for months, and it’s a relief to finally be in the meeting, to see what it’s like,” said Youth Network member Keyvon Washington, a junior at Jordan High School. “I thought it would be more formal. But everybody laughed. We all got along.”

Advisory Team co-chair Tom Jaynes, executive vice president at Durham Technical Community College, who led the meeting, agreed.

“Advisory Team members evidenced a sincere investment in gaining the perspectives of our youth members from the get-go,” Jaynes said. “As a co-chair, I was very pleased to witness the genuine and thoughtful ways that AT members ensured that all voices were heard and points considered.”

Barriers inhibit youth/adult partnerships

Made in Durham creators recognized from the outset that young people must be integrally involved in the partnership. They launched a Youth Network soon after forming the nonprofit. It annually comprises up to 35 diverse young people ages 14-24 selected to represent the many faces and experiences of young people in the community.

Representatives from the Youth Network have been serving on Made in Durham’s board of directors since 2017. In December, youth representatives were named to the partnership’s Advisory Team and task forces.

The Advisory Team of Made in Durham implementation partners proposes strategy and paves the way for action teams to develop, test and scale system innovations on the ground.

“Ensuring the voice and perspective of young people actually influences decision-making and action requires far more than simply naming young people to committees,” says McKinney. “Logistical, economic and cultural barriers can inhibit an authentic youth/adult partnership.”

McKinney has worked with both adults and youth this year to identify those barriers and develop strategies to overcome them so that the young people can be full partners in moving the work forward.

“Meeting times and locations, transportation and underrepresentation are some of the logistical and economic barriers identified by both the youth and the adults,” McKinney said.

To overcome those barriers, the Advisory Team shifted its meeting time to 7:30 a.m. and held the meeting at a location more accessible to students. They circulated the agenda a week beforehand so that McKinney had time to brief the new members on the issues to be discussed, and McKinney appealed to school administrators on behalf of the partnership to excuse the students if they were late for first period.

“Cultural barriers can be more difficult to overcome,” McKinney said.

Adult experiences and relationships with youth are largely hierarchical, rather than a partnership. Adults tend to disregard youth experiences or not take them seriously, to dominate the conversation or fail to understand a youth point of view. Even meeting spaces can be intimidating.

Initial interaction seems promising

Armed with that information and strategies to address those barriers, Advisory Team members young and “older” met together for the first time in April to discuss issues that affect each of them and the community at large. Based on their comments, the initial meeting was a success.

“I didn’t feel the need to bite my tongue,” said Washington. “If I wanted to say something, I was given an opportunity to say it, and I felt like it was taken into consideration.”

Madeleine Yancy, a senior at Jordan High School, agreed.

“It’s very interesting to see the goings-on of Made in Durham, to see what actually happens at Advisory Team meetings and bring that back to the Youth Network,” Yancy said.

Sachdeep Singh, a junior at Durham School of the Arts, said the meeting sparked ideas he had not considered before.

“Many members of the Advisory Team have connections to other groups that work with youth, like the kids without documentation status or the Durham Futures,” Singh said. “I was thinking of ideas for bringing those kids into the Youth Network to get even more ideas and perspectives.”

Overall, Yancy said, “I think it’s really important to have the youth voice in the meeting because we’re doing this to help youth, to have our experiences and our perspectives as we form strategies to move forward with Made in Durham.”

Learn more

For more information about the Youth Network or creating authentic youth/adult partnerships, contact McKinney at dmckinney@madeindurham.org or (214) 562-7133.

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Made in Durham is a community partnership of educators, business, government, youth-serving nonprofits and young people mobilized around a shared vision that all of Durham’s youth will complete high school and a post-secondary credential and begin a rewarding career by the age of 25.
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