How do you actually hear youth? A growing number of organizations pay lip service to ‘youth voices’ but never get past mottos and one-off events. We are learning how organizations actually listen and respond to perspectives, grievances, and solutions of the rising generation. This article explores how adults are making certain that ‘youth voices’ are front and center in the raging debates about policing on the streets and in the schools.
The two initiatives featured here illustrate the monetary and pro bono support that resulted in real outcomes.
|» City provided over $500,000 to garner experiences and proposed remedies from youth of all backgrounds.||» Proposals by youth became the top recommendation by the city-appointed task force on police reforms.|
|» Adult volunteers and graduate students contributed over 100 hours to complete a comprehensive student police-free schools. ||» School Board recommended to the Education Commissioner and Governor to enact the student coalition school safety plan.|
Central Youth Role: Police + School Security Policies
The city of Oakland, California established the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force responsible for reallocating 50% of the $150 million Police Department budget. The 17-members included youth members, Ivan Garcia and Losaline Moa. Together with two key adult allies, they advocated successfully for extra Task Force funding of $532,200 for a “citywide youth leadership strategy that authentically partners youth to participate and engage with decision makers at the highest level.”
IMPACT: Surveys, listening sessions, the “Black Youth Thought Wall,” and other outreach required money and staff support (Reimagining Public Safety Final Report and Recommendations see pages 61-63). This structured ‘youth voice’ process had a decisive influence that is evident in the Task Force Tier One Recommendations (see page 12) that include reallocating money for alternatives to criminalization, mental health services, etc. The City Council voted unanimously but has yet to fully fund all these proposals.
In Rhode Island, several youth-led nonprofits have been relentless in their Counselors Not Cops campaigns. To get more traction, five of these organizations formed a coalition, boosted by crucial support from a cadre of researchers at Brown University and other allies including the Center for Justice.
Recently released is the Providence Alliance for Student Safety Plan. Their comprehensive proposal, enhanced by testimonials by students and educators, calls for the elimination of all school resource officers and maps out a $8million to $9million line-by-line budget for social workers, psychologists and other positions at each Providence high school.
IMPACT: In response to this long-term advocacy, the Providence Board of Education recommended to the Governor and Education Commissioner to eliminate all school resource officers from the largest school system in Rhode Island. More student walkouts are expected to pressure the Governor who publicly opposes police-free schools.
Real Reform — No More Token Gestures
Both reports deserve a deep read but one fundamental shift is the Providence Alliance for School Safety explicitly rejects the typical role of students having the proverbial ‘Seat at the Table.’ Instead students, especially those impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline and under-represented, need to be deciding ‘What’s on the Menu.’
We Deserve and Demand Student Voices at the Lead — We propose that the District vest control over student safety and accountability in a committee of Youth Advocates and community allies, selected by youth. This youth-led committee will have control over school safety–abolishing punitive disciplinary policies, defining the actions schools will take to address disciplinary issues without the intervention of police, and guiding the design and implementation of transformative justice policies.Providence Alliance School Safety Plan
Milly Asherov, a rising senior who works at the Providence Student Union as the Leadership Co-Director, is still exhausted from the coalition’s weekly Zoom meetings. She recognizes one major success factor of this four-month marathon project is symbiosis.
- Students provided concrete insider knowledge that contrast the impact of campuses with school resource officers and those operating with school safety teams as well as trauma-trained mental health professionals.
- Graduate students devoted their research skills to scouring programs in other school districts, collecting stats, generating a budget with baseline salaries for counselors, restorative justice specialists, etc.
- Adult allies dedicated over 100 pro bono hours compiling the information and intense writing with weekly Zoom meetings and ongoing consulting with students every step of the way.
“Youth were present in all interviews with partnerships that could contribute solutions to school safety and all decided by youth. The adults were always checking with us to make sure every section of the report reflected our voices and understood our role in this plan was not just to edit grammar in the report.”Milly Asherov, Classical High School Class of 2022
Adults Are Allies + Accomplices
Adults in California who advocated for significant resources ensured the two youth members were not token representatives on the 17-member Reimagining Public Safety Task Force. Half a million dollars resulted in very substantive input from young people across the city that paid for facilitators, stipends for participants, and staff who worked the youth members in similar fashion to those city employees who assisted the 15 other Task Force members.
In Rhode Island, the hours of research and writing required to generate the Providence Alliance for School Safety plan depended on the intense involvement of dedicated adults. The hardcore reality is even students with superb time management skills rarely have enough free hours or flexible schedules to take such a behemoth project with significant support.
Policymakers and other adult-led initiatives that are serious about collaborating with youth movements and community-based coalitions must reckon with how full-time staff and organizations need to commit the resources to ensure ‘Youth Voices’ is not just a feel-good slogan.