Here at YMCo, we are certain that youth are changing the world. Last month a group of youth in Baltimore proved us right when they organized and attended a Mayoral Candidate Accountability Assembly in their community. This event was sponsored by BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), and asked the candidates in the upcoming mayoral election to specifically address the concerns of Baltimore’s youth. They did so by partnering with Baltimore Youth Organizing Project (BYOP). Akia Jones is a high school junior and Baltimore local who is heavily involved with BYOP and told us that BYOP is “a youth-led program that helps to provide different opportunities for youth in Baltimore…basically the microphone for youth in the community. We ask the youth what they want and then we deliver the news to whoever’s in power.” This week we got to talk with Akia about his hopes for Baltimore and BYOP, and why he feels this work is so important.
The assembly held in March asked the top six mayoral candidates whether or not they would commit to creating jobs in Baltimore, including 1,000 jobs for youth, and working to make Baltimore a city that is safe for its youth. Check out this video from a local news source to learn more about the assembly. Akia told us that BYOP’s goal for the assembly was to have a turnout of 100 students, and his personal goal “was to make sure that the youth see that we’re actually trying to make these things happen for them.” In preparation for the assembly BYOP organized several smaller meetings, some of those including trainings for the larger Accountability Assembly. Akia said, “We did a lot of community
canvassing [and] outreach within our schools.” BYOP youth also visited a youth Sunday school class at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. Tim Hughes, the youth pastor at Brown, was already involved with BYOP, and decided to get these two groups together so that the youth at Brown could learn what the youth of BYOP are doing in the community. By the end of this meeting, the youth from BYOP had invited the youth from Brown into their work, and Brown committed to attending the assembly. A few months later youth from both groups sat behind the mayoral candidates on the stage as they addressed the concerns of the youth as laid out by BUILD’s Youth Agenda. Akia said that, for him, this experience “was fun to see the community coming together to talk about the different issues and things they want to see happen.” (Be on the lookout for next week’s blog about this relationship between the youth at Brown and BYOP!)
Tim said that prior to the assembly a lot of work was done with BYOP youth to educate them on what is reasonable to ask from the candidates. They looked at things like the city budget to come up with the Youth Agenda, presented it to the candidates two weeks before the assembly, and the candidates were given the opportunity to respond at the assembly. “Basically the youth were saying, ‘These are the policies that we would like to see as top priorities or commitments from your campaign, and we’d like to hear from you whether you’ll be supporting them or not.'” Not only did the youth sit behind the candidates at the assembly, but there was also a youth representative on the panel responding to the candidates.
Akia said he believes the assembly was successful. “The mayoral candidates agreed to what we wanted, so now we just have to wait and see if they actually do it…That’s how we determine if this was successful or not.”
When we asked Akia what his hope for Baltimore would be, he said, “Now that’s a tough question. I think for Baltimore– everybody will be able to live in peace…and that the youth will have a voice in the community and not just the adults dominating everything.” He said that the role of youth in creating change in the community is that “Young people are the ones that carry out the actions and the older people give us wisdom, so I guess you could say we are the ones that’ll shape Baltimore in the future. It’s all up to us– what we do and how we act–that’ll determine how Baltimore will be in the future.”
What outlets in your community are giving a voice to youth? What changes do youth want to see happen there? Is your community providing a way for them to let their concerns be heard? If not, how can you create a way? We’ve created a study guide to get you started! Let us know how youth are becoming active in your community by emailing us at [email protected]!