People are scared to talk about these things. I was scared to talk about these things…Everything has to do with fear but if youth can do it so can adults. - Jimmie Cassamajor Read Alliance, New York City

In a recent event hosted by Hello Insight and Youth INC, entitled Youth Speak Out: The Impact of Race and DEI on Mental Health, four amazing young people shared their experiences of stress, isolation, and depression throughout the pandemic and alongside the ongoing racial tensions in the country. They also told stories of the amazing efforts of youth workers who took time to check in with them and support their emotional wellbeing.

Opening Act helped me a lot with my mental health. I share my pain to encourage other people to share theirs’ so that we can offer each other emotional support. - Ester Valet Chokola, Opening Act, New York City

This forum was the first of five entitled Elevating Youth Development: A Series of Discussions about Race and DEI Across the Nonprofit Sector. The idea for these conversations evolved out of meetings with field leaders who are passionate and committed to creating community spaces to address these issues. Key members included staff from: LEAP, Dream Yard, Opening Act, and Trailblazers. The group met over the course of several months and determined that the conversation needed to span multiple stakeholders who span the full ecosystem of influencer, impacting young people and their experiences of DEI and race in out of school time programs — from young people, to frontline staff, to program leadership, funders and policy makers.

The most logical place to begin was by amplifying the voices of young people who set the stage for the series. Beginning in Early October 2021, Marc Fernandes (Director Impact Evaluation, Youth INC) and Kim Sabo Flores (CEO, Hello Insight) recruited four young people from our networks who were interested in sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences surrounding equity and race. Young people represented Flanbwayan, Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, NAF, Opening Act, and Read Alliance.

By early November, we were meeting weekly to get to know one another and share our stories. After a lot of deep trust and community building, the young people decided that they wanted to engage with the greater youth development community about the impact of DEI and race on their mental health. From their perspective, this is the central issue affecting, not only their lives, but also those of their peers.

We want to make sure that mental health is seen as something that is as important as physical health, and facilitating those conversations. - Alana Taylor, Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, NY City.

On January 13th, 2022, young people hosted the first community event, with over 250 young people, youth workers, field leaders, and funders in attendance. From their perspective, school life has been more difficult to navigate, college applications more complex, family life increasingly demanding, work more stressful, and planning for the future a minefield. Therefore, they challenged participants to be “brave and fearless” in their efforts to learn how young people are experiencing this moment — what they are feeling, seeing, and hearing. They encouraged adults to check in regularly, taking the time and care necessary to really listen. But most of all, they asked adults to become allies, advocating for these issues and their right to access mental health support.

Youth should always be an ally rather than an enemy! - Ebony Woods, National Academy Foundation, Birmingham Alabama

Listen to young people speak out and read through their full set of recommendations.

We hope this series provides a space for the greater youth development community to listen, learn and grow together.

Our next event in the series, Youth Workers Out is scheduled for Wednesday March 16th, 6:00 – 7:30 PM EDT. This session will provide insights on how to create out-of-school environments that center the well-being of young people around their identities and mental health. In addition, five youth workers will speak to what they need from their own organizations and leadership to feel prepared and supported in their mental health.

Register for the event here.