Race has shaped the definition of the word "urban." This provokes a question for us in the Minnesota 4-H Urban Youth Development Office: what exactly is "urban" youth development?
We have developed the following strategies, or ways of working, in our effort to serve the most marginalized (but not necessarily urban) youth.
- We "partner with" rather than "bring programming or information to" the youth and adults we serve. The best way to engage any audience is build opportunities together. An even exchange of ideas allows both parties to recognize and work from their own expertise, while gaining new knowledge and experiences from what their partner has to offer.
- We use a youth engagement approach that helps us promote from within. Our youth have opportunities to lead and engage with adults in developing and improving our programs. They build on and see their own growing expertise, and many have come to work with us as paid staff, thus adding to the varied experiences of the Urban 4-H team.
- We help young people transform hope into expectation. As our 4-H'ers discover their interests, we help them connect those interests to future opportunity by learning to overcome barriers and see as real what seem like mere possibilities.
- We help youth see themselves as lifelong learners. Continual reflection, opportunity to showcase learning, receive feedback, and make improvements based on this feedback, offer a chance for youth to see learning as continual.
So for Urban 4-H, "urban" youth development is not just about tweaking our programming to meet the needs of urban youth. Urban youth development is about helping youth and adults to cross the mental boundaries that cause the racialization of the word urban to begin with. We're helping people navigate cultural clashes by providing them with authentic and meaningful opportunity to connect with one another, such as:
- County and regional 4-H events that intentionally recruit from across different types of 4-H communities
- Short, intensive experiences, such as overnight retreats and cultural exchange trips, for youth from varying backgrounds to get to know one another by having fun, learning from one another, and talking about common issues
- Training adult facilitators (interns, volunteers, and staff from partner agencies) to use specific resources to help them and young people navigate cultural differences
- Identifying leaders from each 4-H role (volunteer, intern, partner, youth) who can act as "bridges" to inclusion. As bridges, they encourage fellow participants to consider ways of welcoming and engaging with new audiences
-- Jessica Russo, assistant Extension professor and director
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