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Webinar Recap: YouthREX’s 10 Ways to Meaningfully Engage Underrepresented Youth

On May 28th, YouthREX hosted a webinar titled “10 Ways to Meaningfully Engage Underrepresented Youth”. It was a great learning event that included perspectives from service providers, social enterprises (such as Spoke N’ Heard), academia, and of course, youth!

Without further ado, here are YouthREX’s top 10 tips for meaningfully engaging underrepresented youth:

  1. Let youth self-identify. Labels like “marginalized”, “at-risk”, “vulnerable” can be strong words, and these labels are all circumstantial.

  2. One-off consultations with youth don’t create youth leaders. We need to embed youth in decision making, advising and brainstorming processes.

  3. Create the sandbox from the get-go. Give youth creative freedom to express themselves       

  4. Recognize your power and their power. Three powers are always at play – personal, local, and global. Power can come in the form of speaking English, being Caucasian, living in a developed country, and how you carry yourself. Be aware of micro-aggressions
  5. Experience is not a form of payment. Compensate youth for their time (ex. Public transit, food, snacks). Don’t expect young people have the time and resources to commit to meetings.

  6. Silence is a part of the conversation. Sometimes young people only speak when ask or are prompted to. So, ask for youth contributions. It can be intimidating to bring new ideas when you are the only young person in the room.

  7. Make all resources known. Marginalized youth may not always feel safe because of various forms of violence they have experienced in the past. Make them aware of the available resources before they have to ask, so it’s as safe a space as possible to work optimally. For example, tell youth if you will be paying for lunch or subway fare.

  8. Give a job title to youth who are involved in your organization. This clarifies responsibilities and helps youth in future jobs if they are able to say exactly what they did while working with you.

  9. Get to know the youth’s interest and goals. If they enjoy what they are doing, they will offer more to the organization.

  10. Appreciate and foster their intangibles. Marginalization prompts skills that may not be tangible, such as a distinct world view, knowledge of neighborhood experience, youth perspective, or creativity they may have developed due to lack of resources.

The second part of the webinar focused on an academic perspective on youth engagement, and was presented by Rebecca Houwer. Rebecca has produced a model of youth engagement on promising, evidence based practices to build leadership capacity of marginalized youth. She noted that structurally marginalized youth want opportunities to be part of their communities and have access to share in the work of addressing root causes of marginalization. When developing models for youth engagement, there is a danger of reproducing a patriarchal, euro-centric, adult-centric model that is exclusionary. Youth engagement needs to focus on skill development that moves young individuals, and although we may aim for a collaborative approach to leadership development, we also need to integrate personal and social development needs. Equally as important, Rebecca noted that it is important to contextualize programs within youths’ individual, cultural, political and gendered experiences. Lastly, I found it interesting that Rebecca mentioned the need to cultivate 21st century skills when working with youth, such as collaboration, innovation, and participatory practices, among others. With the world of work changing, developing these skills is crucial.

Overall, it was a great webinar jam packed with tons of resources and information. I’m definitely looking forward to attending YouthREX’s next webinar! 

You can watch a recording of the webinar here 


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