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Re-imagining youth work through an equity lens

By Kate Walker

The Extension Center for Youth Development's next public symposium series will focus on operationalizing equity in Minnesota's youth-serving organizations. In other words, making equity actionable. By equity, we mean promoting just and fair inclusion and creating conditions in which all young people can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. For us, equity is everyone having what they need to be successful.

To (re)imagine and design how a series on this complex, important and emerging topic looks and feels, we hosted discovery sessions with staff, stakeholders and young people. We also gathered wider input via an online survey. Thanks to all who shared their valuable time, candid perspectives and best thinking. You told us to:

  1. Be transparent about our own equity journey. In January our associate dean, Dorothy McCargo Freeman, publicly shared that we are systematically expanding access in Minnesota 4-H. A goal of our First Generation 4-H Initiative is to boldly remove institutional and practice barriers that limit who can join, feel welcome, and lead. Stay tuned as we continue to share our efforts and learnings.
  2. Ensure that historically silenced voices are centered. Our kickoff to the series, Re-imagining Youth Work through an Equity Lens, is an opportunity for critical analysis of how race, gender, class and sexuality relate to the goals and outcomes of youth programming. We have invited scholar-activist and practitioner Torie Weiston-Serdan to lead us. Her specialty is in training mentors to work with diverse youth populations including Black, Latinx, LGBTQQ, first generation college students and low-income youth.
  3. Engage and elevate youth voices. We will continue to seek youth guidance about what the adults in their lives need to know and do to promote equity. We are holding our series kickoff on a school release day to encourage young people’s participation. Morgen Campbell, a young person who is both an experienced co-facilitator and musician, will co-lead the event. We remind ourselves of the youth-centric mantra, “nothing about us without us.”
We intend for this series to look and feel different. We recognize that we are not experts in this arena. Instead, we will be conveners and co-learners. We’ll use our platform to amplify practice-based expertise and we’re committed to showcasing practical and actionable tools, supports and strategies.

We strive to meet people where they are at in their equity journey and recognize this cannot be a one-size-fits-all conversation. This means starting with ourselves and in our own communities. We will be hosting regional events to explore locally-identified issues and strategies in Minnesota’s rural, tribal and urban communities. Join us.

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice, and editor of the Journal of Youth Development

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