It’s been one year since the inception of DC Youth Moving Forward, (DCYMF) a youth advocacy leadership program that myself and a beautiful community helped shape. The experience has been none other than a labor of love. DCYMF was initially birthed after working with a group of impeccable high school students to organize a youth-led town hall, in partnership with, Mikva DC and Critical Exposure.
In 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser was up for re-election and this was an opportune time to help create a space where young people could sit face-to-face with the Mayor and ask earnest questions about her plans to support DC youth. With this vision, I recruited a youth leadership team to help organize a youth town hall in the spring of 2018.
Recruiting young people to organize the town hall was an intentional effort and message to the youth leadership team that they were capable of driving decisions that impact them. Organizing a town hall is a task that requires project management skills, event planning and most importantly collaboration to make sure all bases are covered for the event. These are all skills that young people are more than capable of executing, given the proper support.
Too often we ask young people to convene and discuss issues that impact their communities without providing them the tools or a plan of action to address issues in ways that are true and unique to them. The youth town hall was that pathway of opportunity.
In preparation for the event, I worked with the leadership team to teach event planning, how to develop outreach plans to garner interest from their peers and how to conduct background research for the Mayoral Candidates. The leadership team focused their questions on school discipline policies, youth homelessness, healthy food access, gentrification, mental health support, gun violence and community safety.
But one topic that seemed to be a point of focus was the leadership team’s concerns about tensions that exists in some communities between young people and Metro Transit Officers. Some young people described experiences where they felt Metro Transit Officers often abuse their authority and have a general lack of respect for youth, which often leads to escalated conflicts.
After hearing from young people during the town hall, the youth leadership team decided to take on this issue area for the 2019 program year. I was awarded the Rock Star Fund grant at the perfect time. It allowed me to recruit additional young people that were interested in working on this issue area, while being compensated to learn about advocacy.
One of the most crucial conversations I have at the very start of the program is about the importance of managing expectations as the youth group takes on their work for the program year. When working toward a legislative change, patience and persistence is a virtue. It can take months, or years until elected officials feel confident in supporting a policy change that is in the best interest of all DC residents.
Reflecting back on my experience as a young person, working toward a goal without witnessing it materialize for some time can be challenging. Persistence and dedication is a primary lesson weaved in any form of service or advocacy. In fact, these are some of the greatest lessons participants attest to at the conclusion of the program year. As more young people in the city participate in advocacy programs, this is a lesson that will be threaded in their pursuit for systemic change. A lesson that will be applicable in various aspects of their lives.
Mariah Green is a Rock Star Fund awardee.