Why a Focus on Equity is Critical to Opportunity Youth Engagement

What is the meaning of equity and why is it crucial in framing the work we do with opportunity youth?

The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions (AIFCS) defines equity as just and fair inclusion in a society in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. Since 2012, AIFCS’ Opportunity Youth Forum (OYF) has worked with cross-sector, cross-system collaborative initiatives across the U.S. that are focused on building and deepening the education and employment opportunities for opportunity youth, who are 16- to 24-year-olds out of work and school.

Our new report, Putting Equity at the Center: The Opportunity Youth Forum, emphasizes the role that equity plays in these efforts.

Just how, exactly, are collaboratives keeping the focus on equity? By implementing these four intentional strategies:

  1. Creating a culture of equity across the local community
  2. Using disaggregated data to document and track disparities
  3. Focusing on priority populations (such as foster-care youth or boys and men of color) to address the effects of structural inequity
  4. Challenging existing institutionalized barriers.

The Road Map Project, our partner in South King County/Seattle, has successfully used disaggregated data to identify and address racial and poverty gaps in their community. In response, the collaborative has developed new structural indicators of equity to better inform their work.

“We realized it was not kids we wanted to change, but rather systems,” said Nicole Yohalem, of the Road Map Project. “Now we are using a new set of system indicators organized around those equity essentials.”

Our partner in San Diego, the Workforce Partnership, used data to realize that more than 43,000 young people in San Diego County were disconnected from jobs and school, a disproportionate number being youth of color. They are now piloting a reengagement strategy to focus on three underserved neighborhoods within the county.

The Oakland-Alameda County Opportunity Youth Initiative has worked to challenge existing systems that are creating barriers to young people’s success through its “justice reinvestment” program. The initiative redirects savings from reducing incarceration rates to community intervention and prevention, has successfully advocated with the county to create 1,400 civil service jobs for young people returning from incarceration, and has pushed to change policies that allow young people to be tried as adults.

“We’re not about demonizing the one who’s been oppressed, but really examining the systems that caused that,” says David Harris of the Urban Strategies Council, a partner in the initiative. “It’s not a problem with the young people. It’s a problem with the systems and policies.”

Learn how other community collaboratives are working toward greater social, racial and economic equity while improving outcomes for opportunity youth.

Click here to read the Executive Summary.

Click here to read the full report.