Authentic Youth Engagement

Over the last few months, more than 60 percent of all of my group chats consist of friends and colleagues analyzing the 2016 election, bashing the tactics and feeling insulting most of the time; when media and politicians try to define our generation without actually engaging us.  Now engagement for some can mean many different things but as someone whose always worked at the intersection of youth and policy reform. I can tell you, talking “AT” young people will get your nowhere.


So why does it matter?

Currently, there is nearly 48 million young people ages 18-29 years old who are eligible to vote (no shade to the seniors who only come in at 39 million eligible voters). Youth also makes up 29% of the overall US voting block and as I mentioned in a previous post, the power of that vote can’t be overlooked. Especially since, youth played a major role (2008 and 2012) in helping to elect President Obama and had only millennials voted in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton would be President.


If politicians, non-profits, and corporations are really serious about engaging youth and millennials, lip service will no longer do. To authentically engage this socially conscious and politically active population, please keep the following in mind:


1  “See me” and “Hear me”: It’s important to recognize that young people have the need to be seen as active contributors in society. To build a strong relationship with a foundation of trust, there needs to be authentic recognition of what we can do, rather than being tokenized when we’re the only young person in the room. 

2  “Meet us where we are”: Often when youth are asked to show up in places and spaces that were never meant for them, it’s always at the expensive of the youth. Unfortunately, that prevents many young people from representing their interest. All opportunities should be easily accessible and the approaches towards working with us, should be responsive to our diverse needs.

3  “We can share the baton”: Shared leadership is so necessary, young people usually thrive in a context where collaborations with other young people and adults are fostered. Understanding that all parties can learn something from each other is key. Creating an environment for everyone to share best practices, providing inspiration and support, enables a better working environment. 


“With leadership, comes accountability":

When I worked at the Executive Director for the City of Philadelphia Youth Commission, I made a practice of never promising anything to young people,  without everyone having outlets for accountability. Leaders must ensure that there are provisions of systematic and structured processes where young people can hold government leaders accountable to their promises and commitments.