Transcending Age Prejudice through Youth Engagement

Although historically ignored, many prejudices are now being regularly highlighted by the mass media, including racism, sexism, homophobia and classicism. One prominent prejudice in a youth’s life, however, is not in the news.  Ageism, sometimes called “adultism,” is running rampant in schools, grocery stores, the job market, and many other institutions. Where this prejudice is not present, is at America’s Promise Alliance. Rarely do organizations that impact the youth actually involve youth in the decision making process. Public schools are in no way controlled by the youth whom they teach, nor are most afterschool programs, or youth focused initiatives. However, America’s Promise Alliance is transcending age prejudice through its youth engagement team’s outreach to young people in America.

There are two different ways in which students can become involved in the decision making process at America’s Promise Alliance. One is through the Board of Trustees, and one is through the Board of Directors. I joined the latter. As I jumped off the plane on my way to my first board meeting in D.C., I felt a wave of apprehension. Questions began to enter my mind: Will the board accept me? Will my voice be heard? Will the prejudice that I feel daily be present within the walls of America’s Promise Alliance? These questions were answered within the day. I, along with one other new Board member Lawrence Harris, had an informal introduction to the organization in the afternoon, followed by a formal introduction to the Board that night.

The first thing I noted about the office was the investment they have made to involve youth in their organization. Lawrence and I went through an office meet and greet, where all of our questions were answered, and we were introduced to every member of the America’s Promise Alliance staff. They provided us with an afternoon snack, and gave us a warm welcome, which was followed by a reception and awards dinner at the National Press Club.

There I was introduced to Daniel A. Casey, who provided me with an answer to the apprehensive questions that arose upon my arrival. “Make sure to say something in the meeting” he said, soon after our introduction, “Many new board members just sit back and cruise through their first meeting, not saying anything, but that turns into never speaking up throughout their appointment time.” Mr. Casey’s encouragement brought me to an exciting conclusion: I was brought here for a reason, to be heard.

Following Mr. Casey’s words of wisdom, the next day I awoke early to walk the half block to the America’s Promise Alliance office, anticipation building in my chest. The meeting began at ten with the staff updating the board members on the progress of the organization, and on their new initiative, Grad Nation. Gazing around the table, I took to heart two things Daniel Casey had said. The first was making sure that I participated, raised questions, or added opinions. The second was something he candidly said at dinner “There are a lot of big people on this board,” making sure to humbly say that he was not one, while pointing out Wilson Goode Sr. on my right, ex-mayor of Philadelphia, and senior adviser to Public/Private Ventures.

The Board of Directors at America’s Promise Alliance is filled with CEO’s, Presidents, and top executives of non-profits and for profit businesses. Just being in the presence of such power was humbling. Once the staff left, only the board remained, and we got down to making decisions. The current CEO of America’s Promise Alliance is retiring, and my participation in the process of replacing such an invested person, is teaching me about the business world in more ways than one. Besides being in the presence of such powerful people, I was in the presence of compassionate people. The discussion on the transition between leaders provided me a new look at how businesses are run, in stark contrast to my previous beliefs.

While the meeting was short, the quality was high. In half the time of a typical school day, I learned more about life in the real world than I could have imagined. The most thrilling moment of the board meeting was the mention of America’s Promise Alliance’s new emphasis on minorities, including Hispanic and African Americans. When I brought up the topic of Native Americans, Chairwoman Alma Powell expressed interest in the topic, showing me that compassionate people, no matter how far away they may be, really care about my people.