As a Program Manager for Advocacy & Engagement at Urban Gateways, one of Chicago’s largest in- and out-of-school arts education providers, I describe my role as somewhere in the intersection of arts access, civic engagement, youth voice, teen leadership, social justice, and cross-spectrum partnerships.

I would say that the importance of creating arts education programs that are youth- and participant-driven is the bread and butter of my work. That’s why I believe when working with young people and/or communities outside of one’s own, the art of civics should be inextricably linked to program design and implementation.

By wishing to incorporate youth and their communities in decision-making for initiatives that are intended to engage them and their peers, organizations and program managers are (knowingly or unknowingly) giving these young people a lesson on power dynamics, the power of organizing, and policy development via focus grouping, researching, and consulting with experts (aka themselves). By welcoming youth into the decision-making process, we can begin to show them how decisions—within our organizations and more broadly in society—could be made differently.

Let’s lean into it and, in fact, give these young folks more power over programs that are meant to be for them, particularly in organizations that have little or no history of incorporating young people in admin-level spaces. If done well, and with care, both sides learn how to speak each other's languages, which I believe is the first step in creating meaningful change.

Read the full article about hearing youth voices for community change by Ashraf Hasham at Americans for The Arts.