Boosting Leadership in Rhode Island
Young people rarely participate in making policy decisions that affect
their everyday lives. It is unusual when youth of any gender or race
are welcomed at the table as true partners with adults.
It is unheard for low-income girls of color, who face the “triple-whammy” of ageism, classism, and racism to become policy shapers and makers. If they do participate, they generally lack the training and skills to dialogue with adults as equals.
Working with a grant from the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, Karen Feldman realized that the best way to empower young adults was to situate them in positions of authority. Young Voices, the youth organization she co-founded, gives local youth a platform to advocate for change on their behalf through its Leadership Transformation Academy program. The organization has enjoyed phenomenal growth and success during its first two years.
The participants themselves also praise the program. Keyla Gonzalez says, “Before I attended Young Voices, I felt like a failure that could never amount to anything. I felt that the best thing I could do was just stay quiet. I didn’t really care much about school. Now I push myself harder everyday”.
In November 2007, Providence’s first youth-driven Policy Agenda was presented to more than 200 people, including the mayor, state legislators, city councilors, president of the teacher’s union and the police chief. The agenda included 25 Action Steps defined by the youth through surveys and focus groups of more than 900 Providence high school students, representing more than 10% of the entire youth population of the city. Feldman acknowledges the biggest challenge is to “raise the confidence of our girls, who have been conditioned not to take themselves seriously.”
More than 150 youth will have participated in the Leadership Transformation Academy by the end of 2008.