An Equity Action Agenda for Youth Development Professionals

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By Jennifer Siaca Curry, Ed.D.

We are living in an important moment in time (an understatement!), and recommitting ourselves to equity and inclusion for all in the youth development field is a must. Youth programs have a long history of responding to social needs — sheltering kids from war in the early 20th century, providing child care as women entered the workforce in the 1970s, extending academic learning time in the No Child Left Behind-era.

I argue that today we are preparing for a new focus: the social and emotional needs of young people, and that this new opportunity is incomplete without an anti-discrimination framework. The youth development field is poised to protect children and youth of all races, religions, ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, appearances, and abilities — to embrace their identities and lift their assets to support them in becoming productive, engaged, and successful adults.

And the good news? You don’t need a grant to make this happen. Here are six things you can do today to have a positive impact on the youth you serve.

Build a personal understanding of the history of oppression.

Saying things like, “I don’t see color” or “I treat everyone the same” may feel innocuous, but research and experience suggest that people primed to have a color-blind perspective display more explicit and implicit biases than those primed with a multicultural perspective.

Mind your words — they matter.

Work to eliminate implicit bias.

There’s also youth culture to consider — you may not be on Snapchat, but if that’s where your students are most engaged… it’s time to check it out.

Use culturally-responsive pedagogy (for all students).

This is not a one-size-fits-all solution; each community has to shape an approach that works for its students. For example, Christopher Emdin’s book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and The Rest of Ya’ll Too provides examples specific to teaching Black students in urban communities, such as using engagement techniques used by Black pastors. Although customization is key, there are some universal strategies; for example, many cultures use spoken words and music to share their history. Therefore, opportunities to learn through music, theater, slam poetry, and other verbal platforms can be particularly effective for teaching diverse groups of children. There’s also youth culture to consider — you may not be on Snapchat, but if that’s where your students are most engaged… it’s time to check it out.

Establish open lines of communication with students and create a norm of telling an adult when identity-based bullying occurs.

Label and address identity-based bullying head-on.

Find staff who build and maintain a positive environment for all.

Need more resources? Check out these planning tools from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Racial Equity Tools as a start.

Jennifer has worked in the afterschool and expanded learning field for over a decade, working with the statewide afterschool network in New York and ExpandED Schools. She explored afterschool programs delivered through school/community partnerships in her doctoral dissertation and is a member of the board of the NYS Network for Youth Success. This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

National Network of Cities Dedicated to Expanded Learning, Equity, & Making Learning Fun

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