Tag Archives: youth empowerment

Post the Seventy-Seventh or On Accountability

For those of you who don’t know, I used to work for an organization called Out Youth. As you could guess, Out Youth is a queer youth organization that strives to “promote the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well being” of queer and trans* young people. In other words, they seek to empower queer young people so that they can become leaders in their community. Out Youth is a crisis prevention organization because it gives young people the tools and community necessary to survive. It gives some young people the access to family, support and community that might not be offered at home. I know Out Youth has forever changed my life.

And it was, without a doubt, my favorite job. I got to work with amazing, inspiring young people all day long. I was constantly surrounded by a queer family that I knew had my back. I was working with some badass organizers who were working on the ground, creating safe spaces for queer young people all over Texas. I was working to empower young people to fight for the lives they wanted today and not just wait for it to “get better”. And I loved it. I would come in everyday and these young people would teach me what was really good.

Unfortunately, however, I lost that job. But it wasn’t because I was bad at my job or not meeting my goals. And it was not because the youth felt that I was oppressive or problematic and wanted me fired. I was fired for trying to hold the board of directors accountable. I was fired for organizing the young people against the board of directors. I was fired for trying to revolutionize the organization so that power was centered with the young people.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no saint. I certainly fucked up and made mistakes. I said several things that probably would have been better heard in a private forum. I’m a hothead and my sharp tongue sometimes gets the best of me. And I have a long way to go in learning how to engage to transform. However, nothing that I has ever said have been untrue. And I was always accountable to the young people that I served.

The board of directors, however, is anything but accountable to the young people that they purport to serve. And no action displays this lack of accountability more than in their recent hiring of Aubrey Wilkerson as the new Executive Director. This is the same Aubrey who was the board chair of Out Youth. You know, the same board that hires the Executive Director (I won’t even get into how shady that is). The same Aubrey who squandered a surplus, failed to raise enough money for the organization (despite being a professional fundraiser) and made only a token effort to include young people in the decision making process. This is the same Aubrey that talked down to and misgendered many youth. The same Aubrey who fails to address racial and economic justice at Out Youth and disrespected the only staff member of color on multiple occasions.

What’s more is that the hiring committee (which only had one youth member, even though a youth run and led organization would/should have had more youth than adult members on any decision making body) didn’t even recommend Aubrey to the board for consideration. When they recommended three different people, instead of picking one of those three, the Board went back to review applications and hired Aubrey. Let me repeat that again. The board of directors hired someone that had a direct influence on the decision because they were the goddamn board chair for 4 goddamn years. They hired someone that wasn’t even recommended.

I can’t even.

Now, I don’t claim to speak for the youth. Only they can speak for themselves. But from what I understand, in my time involved in Out Youth, Aubrey has never been liked by most of the youth. I have countless stories where Aubrey’s self-importance was very off putting, especially to trans youth and youth of color. I have so many stories of youth not even knowing who Aubrey was until Lisa Rogers was fired. I have so many stories of youth not feeling heard by Aubrey.

So, not only did the board hire someone who had a stake in the decision-making process (even if he “temporarily” resigned as board chair) but they hired someone who the young people don’t even like. I see where the board might be coming from. They hope that Aubrey will raise those millions that he did at his last job. But what good does millions do if there are no youth? Because that is what this decision is going to do. Its going to push youth out of Out Youth.

What, than, does accountability look like? It looks like changing the structure of the organization so that young people have more power than the adults. It means that all decisions must have final approval by the young people. It means that we empower the young people and give them the tools to drive the organization in the direction that they choose. This is more than just asking for their input. It means integrating young people into every decision making process and giving the young people the knowledge and tools to do that. It means that the adult allies must remain allies and act in support roles only.

But most of all accountability means that we, as adult allies with adult privilege, keep our privilege in check. It means that we don’t take up to much space, that we don’t dominate conversations. It means stepping back and allowing young people to take charge. It means we don’t treat young people like children or think that they can’t handle the responsibility. Accountability means that when we fuck up, because we will, we don’t get defensive. We apologize and don’t do it again.

Accountability means that we do not recreate the systems of power and oppression that exist in society within our own organizations. Within our own families.

So I call upon the Out Youth board of directors. Be accountable to the young people that you serve. Show your willingness to work with young people by renouncing your power. Show your desire to really empower young people by restructuring the organization to give them power. Show your dedication to social justice by being just.

And young people, never forget that they are nothing with out you. There is no Out Youth without youth. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united shall never be defeated. Its time to take your organization back. Force them to be accountable to you. Its time to create something new.

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Post the Fifteenth or Why Youth Empowerment is Important

Empowerment is defined as “increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities”. Youth Empowerment, than, would specifically be the act of increasing the spiritual, political, social, and economic strength of young people. This can take a myriad different forms. From informal conversations on agism and adultism to formal workshops on how young people (and older people) are subject to subtle forms of oppression. It can take the form of skill sharing and providing free counseling services to engaging young people to become leaders in their community.

Another aspect of youth empowerment that is important to address is the intersectionality of identity and that empowering young people also means empowering the different parts of their identity. It is critical that we empower not only young people but also queer young people and young people of color. It is vital that we understand that empowering young people of color will look different then empowering white young people because of the history of oppression that surrounds people of color. We need to be aware that young people are not a monolith and that every young person needs something different in order to succeed.

Finally, its important to recognize that young people are the experts are their own experience. Its important to recognize that they are fully capable, intelligent people who need to be met at their level. Youth empowerment doesn’t work with the attitude of “I want to give them what I didn’t have.” This attitude doesn’t work because it just reinforces the paternalistic and adultist assumption that young people don’t know what they want or what is good for them. If we are to successfully empower young people we need enter with the attitude of ignorance and ask what they need and how we can help them. We need to admit that we don’t know what they need and ask.

In a lot of ways, educators and teachers are one of the principle providers of youth empowerment. Speaking from experience, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for several teachers that I met in high school and college. I wouldn’t have the skills and be as self-possessed as I am today were it not for the months and years I spent outside of class learning from my teachers, specifically my ninth grade biology teacher Robyn Moore. Her story and the story we share is for another post but suffice to say that I owe much of what I am to her.

Which is why I was appalled when I read this Color Lines article. The article details, in case you don’t want to read it, that a white first grade teacher (who teaches in a school of mostly Black and Latino/a students) posted on Facebook that she was “not a teacher – i’m a warden for future criminals”. This is reprehensible for so many reasons. Not the least of which that it criminalizes not only being a person of color but also being a young person. By automatically assuming that young people of color are going to grow up to be criminals you are condemning them to the cycle that keeps everyone oppressed. Young people of color need to be trusted and inspired to break beyond that cycle. Telling them, overtly or covertly, that they will only grow up to be criminals does not help.

This type of behavior speaks to the pandemic and endemic nature of the school-to-prison pipeline. It is spread by schools with limited resources to educate and inspire students which in turn creates apathy and listlessness among the students which in turn discourages the educators and makes them jaded and bitter. That in turn feeds the cycle of violence and students act out and are punished unfairly for it. Young people are imprisoned and killed because of this cycle. Of course there are educators here and there that fight against that, like Ms. Moore, but it is clearly not enough.

This is why places like Out Youth are so important. Not only because it gives young people a safe place to be but also because it empowers young people to be themselves and break out of the cycle of violence. Obviously Out Youth has a lot of work to do in that regard but the very fact that it exists is much better then not. It shows them that they don’t have to wait until adulthood to achieve their dreams.

In conclusion,Youth empowerment is important because it saves lives.

And if we are going to change this world for the better we need to let young people know that they not the future, they are the present. They are the change that they want to see today.


Post the Twelfth or An Open Letter to the Out Youth Board of Directors

This is what you are missing

I love Out Youth. I love working there and I love the work that I do. Out Youth is important to me in ways that I cannot begin to enumerate. Most of all I love the people, the family that I have found there. From the young people that I serve and who teach me in turn to the other interns to the volunteers to the paid staff. In many ways, I feel that we are closer then any family. Certainly we have our squabbles and differences but for all that there is a true sense of love and community that I feel there. And thats because we have all been through similar struggles. Out Youth is the oasis that we find and become a part of. After wandering through a desert world that hates us and oppresses us, we find Out Youth in the midst of it all. With cool water and a place for all, its a haven where we are all safe, staff and young people alike.

And there to greet you when you arrived was Lisa Rogers.

Lisa, with her bad puns and warm heart and strong hands, with her unending energy and her undeniable passion, she was always there. With her amazing ability to inspire young people and her unbelievable commitment to Out Youth, she did everything from orient the new volunteers to write the newsletter to develop programing. She was here the earliest and left the latest.

She was always here. That is until the Out Youth Board of Directors eliminated her position and laid her off in the most disgusting of ways.

With absolute lack of professionalism she was terminated effective immediately with no notice and no chance to not only say goodbye but also to follow up with people she was to meet with and delegate tasks to those who would remain behind. But even beyond that she was treated with out humanity and she was not treated as one would treat a family member. She was not treated with the respect and dignity that you would give to a beloved elder or a badass crazy crone. And we were not consulted or asked or even given the opportunity to work on this as a community. Why?

Because the Board of Out Youth are not a part of this family.

And I wish to Goddess that they were! I want them to be a part of this community. I want them to know the family that they serve. Meet the young people that have been saved because we were here. I want them to know us! I’ve asked young people and volunteers alike if they had ever met a Board member and the answer again and again was no. How can they know what is best for this community when they don’t even know its members? How can they pretend to have executive power when they don’t know us?

They have forgotten that they work for us.

They can mouth at us that it was because of the recession and lack of funds but thats not good enough! There were other ways that this could have been done but even if there wasn’t, we still should have been consulted. We still should have been asked, “What do you think?”

So I say to you, Oh Board. We are on to you. We are on to your lack of organization and ineptitude. We are on to your pompousness and on to your self-importance.

We are on to the fact that you are not doing your job. 

I propose a call to action. It is high time that we hold the Board accountable to us. It is high time we created a culture where young people can empower themselves to be a part of the Board and give themselves voice in this organization. It is high time that the Board met us where we were at and made us a part of the decision making process. It is high time that we steered our own ship and its high time for the Board to get us the fund we need to run effectively.

Beware. For the actions you take have consequences.

And the storm is coming.