Reconsidering Who ‘Opportunity Youth’ Are
Recently, The Aspen Institute extended an invitation to ServiceWorks to participate in a discussion about ‘opportunity youth.’ Because we have recently completed our first cohort of ServiceWorks at Edgewood Commons and Stony Brook, this discussion was both timely and meaningful.
Prior to attending the discussion, the ServiceWorks team was focused on capturing what we learned about engaging 16-24 year-olds in CPDC communities and ways to refine our program to maximize its impact.
The discussion with Aspen was a chance to talk with other organizations and people who are working with the same demographic and gather feedback on ways to improve ServiceWorks.
Although we came with clear intentions and ideas of what we wanted to discuss, we were all surprised when the conversation kicked off with the question: “what are opportunity youth not?” A long pause of confusion spread throughout the room.
It occurred to me that we normally focus so much on who this group is ‘defined’ to be rather than who they truly are… and are not.
Too often, society imposes a narrative about entire groups of people, and we–often unknowingly– internalize these ideas and perpetuate stereotypes.
The reality is that ‘opportunity youth’ can be found anywhere, can be any race, and can come from any economic/social class. Opportunity youth are first and foremost people with feelings, ideas, beliefs, experiences, culture and valuable contributions that are not currently being tapped into.
When trying to implement a program meant to reach a targeted group we must first check our assumptions and approach our work with humility. We must consider the details of what makes a person who they are instead of dismissing them for whatever the reason may be.
The narrative of the young people in the work ServiceWorks is seeking to accomplish is crucial to our success.
I walked away from this enlightening conversation with one clear understanding: ServiceWorks does not define the scholars. The scholars define ServiceWorks.
Terrica Mitchell, originally from Tampa, FL, is a recent graduate of Mary Baldwin University (Staunton, VA) with a B.A. in Political Science. In college she served as an active leader in numerous organizations including: Black Student Alliance, Minority Clubs United, Ida B. Wells Society and was a “Big Sista” in the Ubuntu Mentoring program. Along with her various campus roles, she worked in the Office of Institutional Advancement and the Office of Inclusive Excellence. As a ‘Boldy Baldwin’ woman, Terrica dares to be intentional and dedicated to civic engagement and seeks out opportunities to give back to communities.