February is Youth Leadership Month, which is the perfect time to celebrate organizations who are working to do just that—empower young people! At YTH, we believe in the power of youth leaders and seek to amplify the voices of young people in tech and health. And we wanted to highlight three other organizations that are working with young leaders that you should have on your radar.
Scenarios USA works to tell the stories of young people both in and out of the classroom, primarily though their REAL DEAL curricula, which combine Common Core standards with social justice themes and critical thinking.
Students are invited to enter the annual REAL DEAL storytelling competition and submit a short story that addresses the theme of that year’s curriculum. A selection committee picks one winner from each city—Cleveland, Chicago, and New York—who will be paired with a Hollywood director to turn their story into a script and make a film. Films go on to be viewed by as many as 20 million people per year, screening on national networks like HBO and Showtime.
YTH Youth Advisory Board member Janaya Greene was a winner of last year’s REAL DEAL competition with short story “Veracity.” “Scenarios…helped me gain a lot of insight about social justice issues as well as what it’s like to work on a film set. After ‘Veracity’ was done filming, Scenarios gave me an opportunity to voice my different thoughts and showcase my writing on their blog,” she told us about her experience.
“Working with Scenarios has taught me to really embrace and not be afraid of every part of who I am and to fight for the people who are socially less accepted than I am,” Janaya added. “They also taught me not to be afraid of my own voice and that it’s okay to be vocal about different issues that I am passionate about, regardless of if it makes some uncomfortable or not.”
Janaya also emphasized how Scenarios USA takes the voices of young people seriously, whereas most adults, in her experience, do not. “What’s made the biggest impression on me is how much Scenarios USA values young people’s voices and opinions. In my experience, many adults undervalue what young people have to say. But Scenarios provides a backbone for young people, they say your voice does matter and people do care and want to hear what you have to say.”
Advocates For Youth
Advocates for Youth (AFY) is an organization that works to bring young leaders and adult allies together to advocate for the rights of young people to access sexual health information, education, and healthcare services, free of stigma or barriers. “Advocates for Youth is the only organization that works both in the United States and in developing countries with a sole focus on adolescent reproductive and sexual health,” they write on their website.
AFY have created countless programs, informational guides, social media campaigns, and policy around youth sexual health. Some projects like Amplify Your Voice were created to give young people a safe space online to access information on sexual health, and it includes a blog written by young people and toolkit trainings for youth activists. They also created the 1 in 3 campaign, which seeks to bring abortion out of stigma and shame by giving young women a platform to share their story. Advocates’ Young Women of Color Initiative, which includes a Young Women of Color Leadership Council, seeks to empower young women of color in sex education and healthcare.
In talking to to youth who are involved in AFY programs, it was clear that youth at the forefront of their initiatives. “Advocates for Youth is unique in that it actually makes sure young people are a part of the experience of creating change,” Cydney, a youth activist in the YouthResource program told me. “ From what I’ve seen, most organizations might speak on behalf of their youth or use the stories of their youth as a means to accomplish the work, but Advocates for Youth lends itself as a platform for the youth themselves. The youth are identifying the issues they want to talk about and the ways they want to lead, and Advocates supports them in any way they can.”
Brianna Suslovic, YTH’s Social Justice Ambassador and a member of AFY’s Young Women of Color Leadership Council, echoed this sentiment. “I’m impressed with Advocates for Youth’s ability to integrate youth perspectives and voices into all the work that they do. Youth are uniquely represented in leadership and decision-making processes, and this makes a huge difference,” she said.
Magic Of Diversity
Being able to see yourself represented in mainstream media is an important part of identity development for young people. Although there has been a lot of pushback in recent years to create more diversity in TV, movies, video games, and stories of marginalized youth, there’s been significant silence around print media. Even though young people are consuming more digital media than ever before, print media is still a large part of our lives, especially considering those who are students and reading literature as a part of their coursework.
Enter Montgomery Jones, young feminist activist, organizer, and leader who is also an avid reader. She wanted to give young adult authors a place to spread their work to a wider audience and tell the stories of young people of color, LGBT folk, and others whose lives are often not reflected in mainstream reading material. Montgomery decided to create Magic of Diversity, an organization that acts as a monthly book box subscription service.
“I created this box so lesser known authors and books could have a platform,” Montgomery said about Magic of Diversity. “I also wanted to allow the readers to really immerse themselves in the world of the protagonist and have a better understanding of the story, which is why I interview the authors. It’s truly an interactive experience all around.”
Montgomery takes the power of representation seriously as she explains how transformative seeing your story reflected in a book can be. “When you see people like you in literature, a form of medium with no limits, you then realize that you can live your own life without limits,” she added. “Marginalized adults and children in particular are so sparsely represented compared to the majority that it’s easy to think that there are no contemporary stories written about us.”
Magic of Diversity is a youth-run, youth-lead, and youth-founded company, and Montgomery cites her biggest challenge in running this service is spreading the word. “There are some amazing book subscription boxes out there that have a massive following, (I subscribe to most) and even though I know how we differ, explaining that to a new potential subscriber can be challenging. Although once they read even a little bit about MOD Book Box’s mission, they seem to get it,” she explained. This barrier to access is what causes many youth-led projects and companies to struggle to stay afloat, which makes supporting them that much more crucial to empowering youth leaders.
All of these organizations show the importance of empowering young leaders and putting them at the center of issues that affect them directly. Let us know what you plan to do to commemorate Youth Leadership Month and how your organization empowers young leaders by tweeting us at @YTHorg.
Meet youth leaders and youth-serving organizations who are committed to advancing health and wellness at YTH Live, the youth + health + tech conference. Learn more.
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