When most people think about Washington, D.C. their minds might immediately produce images of the White House, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument and Smithsonian Museums. Most people do not realize that there are over 600,000 residents from diverse backgrounds, faiths, and communities living, working, and attempting to co-exist with one another.
Washington, D.C.’s Latino and African American communities combined make up over 50% percent of the city’s total population, yet both communities have lived in some of the most underserved neighborhoods in the city and are less likely to graduate from high school then their white counterparts.
With so many tensions and burdens, Washington, D.C. youth are speaking up and preparing themselves so that their solutions and ideas will be appreciated as much as the walkouts and protest we see them leading. These young leaders are utilizing social media platforms in new and exciting ways to tell their stories and engage with elected officials in innovative ways.
Here are tips I’ve shared with Washington, D.C. youth to support their efforts as they continue to serve their communities.
Tip 1: Create a space to talk and learn
We created a space to help young leaders see clearly how their decisions impact their community as well as how the decision of others can impact their community. We hosted Passport to Manhood Social Media Leadership Conference for young men ages 16-20, which provides tools and space to begin thinking about how to use their voice to bring about change. One of the successes of the conference led to D.C. City Council Members ability to assist these young men in accessing resources for their families and communities. Additional Expert Tip: We worked closely with churches and other community groups to offset cost for space and food, reaching 30-40 young men at each convening time.
Tip 2: Don’t look for instant success, look for sustainability.
One of the things we stress with our young people is: change and access takes time. We want to manage expectations — just because they organized one event or received 1,000 likes on a social media post does not mean their demands will be met. Instead, we teach them to be persistent and focus on refining your advocacy skills and building relationships with groups of shared interests. It brings us great joy to see our young people think about sustainable solutions. They are now thinking long term and sooner or later they will get their demands met.
Community leaders do not need titles, they just need followers and resources to change the world. Let’s make sure we are creating the space for leaders to grow and teaching them how to properly evaluate their successes and dreams.
You can learn more about creating change in your community by participating in #YLAIEmpowers Communities.
David Street is the Deputy Director of Grassroots Organizing & Engagement for Bread for the World here in Washington, D.C. Outside of his work for Bread for the World, Street is the Executive Director for P.E.N DMV (Promote Enrich Nurture) a local non-profit that teaches young men leadership skills through a social media lens and context.