Creating a Youth Council for DCPNI

The first thing I ever wanted to be was a mermaid. When I realized I couldn’t talk to fish nor did my ears adjust well to deep underwater swimming, I decided I wanted to be a chemical engineer. After that I wanted to be an oceanographer, and then a doctor. But what am I doing now? I’m right where I want to be, one semester away from a degree in anthropology. Though my dreams changed many times, one thing remained constant: the encouragement and support I received from friends, family and caring adults that I could be anything I wanted.

I was lucky; growing up my mom reiterated this mantra by offering me every resource available to make my dreams a reality. She let me find solutions to my problems in my own ways. However, some youth don’t have a caring adult who helps them in this way. Fortunately in the DC Promise Neighborhood, the Parkside/Kenilworth neighborhoods of Ward 7, this sort of unwavering support from caring adults is becoming more of a reality for all youth.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a lunch meeting/discussion between Kathy Payne of State Farm, an America’s Promise Alliance Partner, Irasema Salcido of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) and founder of the Cesar Chavez schools, Reverend Melvin Moore, Sharita Slayton of the DCPNI, and Melinda Hudson, America’s Promise Alliance’s Executive Vice President and Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Planning and Governance.  

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how better to engage youth in the DCPNI, by the creation of a youth council. After discussing the importance of youth voices and letting youth take the lead in decision-making, I left the meeting with a greater understanding of how youth involvement in all community decisions is integral to the success of a community.  

Each of these community leaders told their own stories about working with youth councils, but one of Mrs. Payne’s stories of her work with the State Farm Youth Council stood out in particular. In the story she began describing the difference between how youth and adults make decisions: “Youth see the end solution. They can see the barriers they will encounter and outline a strategy where these barriers are overcome as part of the end solution. Adults see the barriers and try to cut around them and not encounter them on the way to a solution.” 

What she said really resonated with me. Youth and adults do tackle problems in a different way.  However if the adults in a community can embrace these differences, encourage the youth to come up with their own solutions, and foster the youth’s ability to dream, the end result will be the best possible community for all the youth. 

With the advent of a DCPNI Youth Council, youth will have more of a say in what happens in Ward 7. With adult community support, determined to make sure America’s Promise Alliance’s Five Promises are available to all youth, the DCPNI Youth Council can’t do anything but succeed.

Though I never became a mermaid, or a chemical engineer, oceanographer or doctor (there is still time though!), my dreams changed. I had caring adults who let me make my own choices, and gave me the resources to create my own solutions to the problems I faced along the way. The DCPNI in Ward 7 is becoming a place where all youth will have these resources; a place where youth led decision making, cultivated by the support of caring adults, will make Ward 7 an even better place.