We are grateful to all of our Opportunity Youth Forum partners from across the country that gathered with us last month in Seattle/South King County to learn about the local work in the region and learnings from the entire OYF national network and partners. Thank you to all who participated: leaders from backbone organizations, representatives of school systems, institutions of higher education, private sector, community-based organizations, foundations, and youth leaders.
Several young leaders from South King County joined us to discuss the incredible event and what it was like to share their city. With the convening bringing together a tremendous swell of young voices, Tori Felder, 24, hopes this translates to people valuing opportunity youth.
“I hope that people walked away from the conference and felt that they wanted to hire more opportunity youth,” she says. “Not because it looks good for funding but because they saw how resilient we are. How driven we are. I hope they saw that our stories are our strengths not our weakness. Opportunity youth aren’t strong in spite of our circumstances, we are strong because of them.”
Tevin Gladney, 23, urges convening attendees to continue keeping youth voices front and center.
“Let’s create more spaces and seats at the table for young people to share their experience and expertise,” Tevin says. “Everyone that attended the convening should hold onto the lessons and takeaways they learned. We are all great minds coming together to fulfill a similar mission. Let’s continue to change the game and take action!”
Pavielle Montes, 25, agrees, saying that strong national partnerships will help foster and strengthen local partnerships.
“I want people to feel empowered to go back to their cities and continue to do work that really strengthens young people to continue to be successful and know that they are not alone,” she says. “We are all in this together.”
We continue to stand in awe of the young leaders who took the stage (and the mic) to share their stories of resilience, courage, and power.
Pavielle says she wishes for convening participants to recognize the tremendous resources available in Seattle/South King County and the crucial role that Reconnect to Opportunity (ReOpp) plays in youth re-engagement.
“ReOpp is another gem I was excited for people to learn about,” Pavielle says. “The ReOpp team is really doing the groundwork to make sure youth in King County understand what education options and resources are available to them.”
Tevin said he was most proud to discuss ReOpp’s social media projects and hopes that other partners across the country can mirror this work.
“I loved discussing what we are doing with our social media platforms because we are creating a welcoming space for all opportunity youth to share their stories and we are reaching out to more underserved individuals,” Tevin says. “It is great that we are supported to work on these types of projects, and other organizations around the country are highly interested in replicating some of our strategies.”
Tori says witnessing youth leaders Freda Crichton and Hikma Sherka take the stage to “share their truth on a platform” was inspiring and one of her favorite moments from the event.
“Every young person watching could relate and feel a sense of pride in their similar struggle,” she says. “We felt represented in the room and this is a rare feeling for opportunity youth.”
Tori says older attendees acknowledging the power of young leaders also was impactful to her.
“We can all find strength in each other’s stories,” she says.
Pavielle says learning about the history of the land from Muckleshoot Tribal elder Renee Rose Lozier Rojas was especially powerful. Renee relayed her knowledge of plants as well as stories from her native culture that have been passed down from generations. Renee’s niece, Cali, shared with participants cultural songs and dances.
“It was a great example of the power of intergenerational relationships,” Pavielle says.
Given the success of the convening in Seattle/South King County, Tevin has high hopes for a future convening led by young leaders. He said after debriefing with other youth leaders, they are in agreement.
“We feel fully capable of taking on such a project,” Tevin says. “I would love to give more youth in our community an option to lead, and share their talents and perspectives with others. This would be a great way to lead youth to more opportunity to grow and leave a legacy. The sky is the limit.”