Hey Schools! Let Teens Take the Wheel
We empower teens impacted by issues like crime and violence to talk to & teach school leaders about the problems they face to improve policy
Hear the Youth members meeting with school board members and the Superintendent.
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1466 Palm Avenue Jacksonville, FL 32207 Apt. #7
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Date You Started Your Project Started
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)
1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
As a child, I lived with the ever-looming threat of gang and gun violence each day. In fact, this was true for nearly every single person at my school, many of whom were African-American youth. Yet in all of the school board meetings held to address this issue, nobody there was from impacted communities like mine, or had ever even experienced these problems themselves. Our voices are changing that.
2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Hear the Youth is an organization dedicated to giving the individuals who have to walk to school each day in fear of being shot, not a bunch of old, white, male school officials, a platform to lead our efforts at creating reform. So how were we, just kids, going to do this? To the chagrin of many, we wanted to give not just adults, but impacted youth the ability serve on our state and local legislatures as a means of creating change in our schools. To us, this made perfectly good sense, after all, who better to create our laws than the people who had experienced things like violence, crime, and poverty firsthand, after all, we would ultimately end up being the ones most impacted by these decisions. However, it seems no one else, not even the Superintendent thought so. So we went even higher until we reached the Mayor, who, having been inspired by our work, asked us to serve on the Jacksonville City Commission on School Safety and Crime Reduction. As members, we are now some of the loudest voices in our city, going toe-to-toe with adults on the issues we care about. Now, our work has proven the capability of, and necessity for youth voices in our schools and government.
3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?
In my eyes, my childhood was perfectly normal. Everyone got a little startled by those loud cracks that went off at night, right? What kid wasn't familiar with that one person selling flowers in their area? And who didn't know all of the local cliques in town? Little did I know, those "cracks" were gunshots, those "flower salesmen" were drug dealers, and the people I viewed as "friendly cliques" were actually gangs. You see, crime and violence of this sort was so normal in my school district that I never even realized or was remotely bothered by these things. Seeing this, I wanted to prevent the normalization of this kind of violence at my school, so, I attended my first DCPS board meeting, only to find that not one person there looked like me. It was then that I immediately knew no one could be a better advocate for my needs than kids like me, who'd directly experienced these problems.
4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”
5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
Many Hear the Youth students are from poor backgrounds and come from families where it is almost expected that they end up either incarcerated or dead. One of these kids was Simeon, and when he first walked into our classroom, he was prepared to leave. However, as we brought our concerns to the attention of school board members and spoke with leaders like the Superintendent, he was always one of the most vocal people in the room, speaking passionately about his personal experiences as a means of helping these adults make more informed decisions. Being given that platform and seeing that the people in charge of our schools cared about what he had to say truly changed him, and now, as one of the only teen members of the Commission on Crime, he will tell you his time in Hear the Youth taught him valuable skills like public speaking that have allowed him to go from hopeless to a local hero
6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
Our work is entirely youth-led, and I think the fact that everything stays in the hands of young people is what has allowed us to be so successful, because no one can be a better representative for youth than themselves. This distinguishes us from similar organizations that are run by adults who have little experience with or passion for solving problems like crime in schools because it isn't something they're impacted by on a daily basis. Additionally, we directly impact our members' lives with many kids involved in our program going from juvenile "delinquents" to juvenile justice activists.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
The irony is that despite being only kids, we have been able to make even more of a difference in our community than many of the adults who told us we never could, going from what was once a group of "troublesome teenagers," as were often dismissed as, to a movement whose accomplishments have included: presenting with the Coalition for Justice, collaborating with Harvard's Graduate School of Education (where our members advise their Making Caring Common in schools campaign), and giving a TED talk about the link between illiteracy and incarceration. However, despite all that we have accomplished, I think it is more important for us to realize the broader lesson to be learned from this: when we allow people who have experienced things like violence, crime and poverty firsthand to lead our reform efforts, we can effectively create change.
8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
To pass the torch! I want other teens to lead Hear the Youth in the future and continue to grow and expand this awesome opportunity to even more amazing students! (also, a more recent next step to look out for is that we have just been named a collegeboard ambassador!)
9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?
Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc) (8)
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?
Communities of color
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