Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Youth Voice: Calling My Peers- Let's Get Civically Engaged

This week, we're sharing the perspective of Tavian Southall, a youth participant in Mikva Challenge DC who has spent the summer interning at the DC Council. We thank Tavian and Mikva Challenge DC for their contribution to this blog!

I am a college student! I just graduated from high school, and now I am on my way to change the world. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I told myself that I wanted to complete as many challenges in an efficient and timely manner. I wanted to be engaged in and out of school. I participated in my school’s Student Government Association as the 12th Grade Representative. I advocated to the Executive Director of the school to partner with an organization named Reach Inc. I was a tutor for Reach Inc. for two years as an underclassmen at my old high school, so as I came to my new school for eleventh (and twelfth) grade, I made sure Reach Inc. was a program that was coming with me. Consequently, when I began twelfth grade, Reach Inc. was at my new school! From there, I led the ninth and tenth graders in the program with tutoring second and third graders in reading and writing. I soon joined the State Board of Education’s Student Advisory Committee -- advocating and discussing issues we faced at our respective schools. I also continued to work with the SBOE Representatives to ensure that the upcoming committee members are more productive and action-based. And of course, I joined Mikva Challenge DC, an organization focused on youth civic engagement in a variety of ways. Now, I want to fuse youth engagement and education into one organization and call it my own.

In the District of Columbia, there are many opportunities for youth to become civically engaged in their communities. I participated in a few of them this past year, and would encourage all youth in DC to learn more about the opportunities available to them!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Late to class? Go straight to jail.

Do not pass go.

Do not go to class.

Do not go home.

Mic's Jack Smith IV wrote a piece this week about a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice, We still put children in jail for being late to class.

Now you might remember that several weeks ago, we stood in solidarity with the Every Student, Every Day Coalition regarding under reported suspensions at some DC high schools. And this report is the other side of that coin.

Here is an excerpt from Smith's article.
Across the country, thousands of kids are still thrown in juvenile detention for violations known as “status offenses” — offenses that wouldn’t be considered crimes if not for the age of the offender. A new report by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that 100,100 kids were locked up this way in 2014 alone, the most recent year the data is available. They’re the kind of offenses that child psychologists will say are a natural part of growing up. But if you’re black, poor, LGBTQ or female, you often don’t get the benefit of the doubt: You get jail.
Too often we see youth in DC stumble into and sometimes from systemic and institutional barriers that keep them from being able to catch up with their peers, or even simply move forward at their own pace. To paraphrase what one colleague said at our Youth Advocacy for Action Summit in the Spring, "youth challenges are commonly adult issues". And as adults who value and do our best to raise up youth voice, part of our work often involves understanding youth development.

While the bulk of our work is rooted in policy research, community meetings, and legislative advocacy, part of it also has to do with informing and changing perspectives we have as adults of our young people. You may have heard the term adultism, which Wikipedia defines as "prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people".

One of the recommendations which the Vera report makes to decriminalize adolescent behavior certainly addresses adultism, in that it calls on adults that work in systems of care to "approach all misbehaviors with an understanding of youth development and needs":
Whether it is a teacher reacting to an outburst in the classroom, an officer responding to an incident in the home, or a case manager determining a service plan, adults cannot properly respond to kids’ misbehaviors—either in the moment or procedurally—if they do not appreciate the context in which behaviors occur. Adults who work with or make decisions for kids must be trained to understand youth development and needs, as well as how those factors shape behaviors. This includes knowledge of the effect and signs of mental health problems and trauma, as well as an understanding of how culture, systemic bias, intersecting identities (including gender and gender expression, race, and sexual orientation), and their own personal biases influence dynamics with kids. 
We recommend checking out both the Mic article for a brief overview, as well as the full report. And please share with your family, friends, and colleagues. Also, let us know what you think about the report in the comments!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

My Summer Employment Experience, in Three Acts

Photo credit: GW Hatchet
This is part of a special series focused on summer employment experiences of adults in our network. Kicking us of is DCAYA's own Communications and Development Manager, JR Russ.

My first summer job was right before my freshman year at the George Washington University. I applied for and was hired part-time working in GWU's bookstore in 1999. Honestly, 18 years later, my time there is a bit of a blur. But I remember learning a bunch of soft skills for the first time, as it related both to inventory management as well as customer service, which often competed with each other.

See as we received shipments of books for the fall semester, while we'd be stocking and organizing the shelves, we would have to be able to also field questions and address issues which students brought to us mid-task. In meant learning how to juggle different priorities, while maintaining a professional demeanor in front of whomever we were helping at the time. And although I didn't quite know what I wanted to do when I finished college, I could also check working in a bookstore off of my list. This isn't to say I thought my time was wasted there. I simply learned what I could in the time that I was there.

Photo Credit: GWU Facebook's page.
The following summer, I would find myself employed as part of GWU's Freshman and Transfer student orientation crew AKA the Colonial Cabinet. The application was an UBER-competitive process, with just about 30 rising sophomores through seniors being selected from an applicant pool of hundreds. I mean, with summer housing being just one of the perks, you can imagine the demand to be a Cabinet member was high. Oh yes, that's me being held up in the back row.

And there was so much I loved about this, both in what I brought to the table and what I learned. Having been co-president of the drama club in high school, working on skits to dramatize what college life can be like was a blast. But there were a lot of team building and collaborative exercises which also taught me how to work with others outside of a theatrical endeavor. I didn't realize it at the point, but one of the things I think I truly valued about the role was being an ambassador of the community on campus, and doing our best to acculturate new students to the university. In a way, it was also the first time I got to be a mentor, in this case to the incoming freshmen assigned to me.

Photo Credit: HRC
I have to tell you, though. I would actually end up leaving GWU after the fall of my sophomore year, for various personal reasons, and take a year off. The Spring of 2001, I had secured a spring internship at the Human Rights Campaign. I worked in the membership department, primarily assisting with preparing materials for and managing the intake of new and prospective donors.

I know this started out as a blog focused on summer employment experiences. But this HRC internship was the next professional environment I found myself in, as a young person turning 20 at this point. I should add a caveat that I can honestly say I knew this internship was not going to be directly related to my eventual path. I would eventually return to the arts, but that's a story for another blog. So I simply continued to develop those skills, particularly in time management and learning & adapting to yet another workplace culture, which would leave my nimble and responsive in any work environment I found myself in.

Photo Credit: George Byron Griffiths 
Years later it has often been those soft skills, like communicating efficiently and effectively, which have landed me opportunities that my resume alone did not. All this is to say that sometimes the benefit of various summer or gap year employment isn't what shows up on paper, but what shows up in person. So as you and your young people explore various career paths, I can only strongly encourage everyone to learn what they can, find the joy in each moment, and trust yourself to be able to move on to what's next, when needed.

You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!