I’m writing today as Program Manager for Advocacy & Engagement at Urban Gateways, one of Chicago’s largest in- and out-of-school arts education providers. I’ve been describing my role here as somewhere in the intersection of arts access, civic engagement, youth voice, teen leadership, social justice, and cross-spectrum partnerships. I’m #blessed to be in a position where my values inform my work. Those values include deep collaboration, mutually beneficial relationships, accountability, transparency, cooperation, humility, power-sharing, striving for relevancy, and ever-adaptability.

What I think people don’t necessarily realize is that such an act — incorporating the wants, needs, and desires of the community one is working for — is political.

Sure, you’ve heard that bold statement before — whether from Thomas Mann, Bob Marley, the second-wave feminism movement, or any number of other riffs from modern history. But to question (and ultimately shift the paradigm of) who has the power to make the decisions that affect one’s daily life, is overtly political.

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.

How can we boost youth engagement?

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 undoing power dynamics by Ashraf Hasham at Americans for the Arts.