Minneapolis Youth congress: Real ideas, dialog


Though Minneapolis Youth Congress (MYC) members say they can see results from their involvement, their biggest frustration remains adults who ask for their opinion but then don’t follow through, four representatives told a Hawthorne Huddle meeting in July.

Under the slogan “No Decision About Us, Without Us” 35 to 50 people in grades 8-12 meet two Thursdays a month to talk about and work on issues in committees, and meet six times a year as a full council. Businesses have heard about the Youth Congress, said a coordinator, Evan Barnett, and they’ve needed to create a process. “Lots of people don’t know how to create an adult-youth partnership” he said, emphasizing “partnership.”

A small group will meet with the potential partner first, then if they want to go forward, they’re invited to a meeting to give their pitch. “The youth are brutally honest, they’re warned about that,” Barnett said.

The Go To cards for bus transportation make Cashon Richard, a Youth Congress alumnus, smile every time he uses them or sees someone use them. It’s an issue on which the Youth Congress worked with elected officials. They developed YouTube videos featuring Light Rail Lady and Metro Man to talk about safety when using transit.

Richard said the youth also participated in the recent national Neighborhoods USA conference held in Minneapolis, and learned about walk-outs and sit-ins, “on how to protest. It’s better to work for something than against,” he said. The education committee is now working on “solutions not suspensions.”

Students are paid for their participation, $30 per meeting and for speaking engagements, their intellectual property, Barnett said. Richard said “when I first joined it was for the money and free food. But it is now a reason why I want to be a teacher.” He served on the Congress’ education committee. He said he now knows “how to speak out loud and shake a man’s hand” and wants to give back knowledge.

Tiara Jones is going on her fifth year in the Minneapolis Youth Congress, and is on the employment committee. She talked about meeting with State Senator Bobby Joe Champion as part of preparing for job interviews. Asked “how can we help?” she answered “listen to youth. Even three-year-olds have opinions. We’re often asked for opinions but then those are not used.” Speakers made a point that even an explanation of how an opinion was considered but why it was not used, would be helpful.

The youth are often called on to facilitate meetings for businesses or causes seeking young peoples’ opinions. In those settings, “we need to have focused conversations without giving our own opinions,” Jones said. Barnett said that from September through January the youth are getting training on facilitating, and on racial justice.

Melissa Skelley, a health committee member for two years, said with Minnesota ranked 13th in the nation for problems of human trafficking, that has become a focus issue. They met with Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and others, and put on a workshop at a Peace Jam. They’ve also worked on providing “psychological first aid” for youth on everything from loss of a dog to a parent going to prison.

There is also a housing committee, which didn’t have a coordinator this past school year. In the past they made a chart of shelters and sources of hot meals, walked around downtown reaching out to highly mobile students and trying to hook them up with wraparound services. There were three homeless youth on the Congress, said VJ Smith of MAD DADS; his organization worked with the youth.

The Minneapolis Youth Congress is housed at the Youth Coordinating Board and advises the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Hennepin County, the Minneapolis Libraries in the Hennepin County Library System and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board itself, according to the website, www.ycb.org/initiatives/youth_congress/.

If you are interested or a young person you know is interested in applying to be a member of the Minneapolis Youth Congress, the application is available online through the address above.The application posted has a Sept. 1 deadline. The Minneapolis park buildings also have applications available. There is an interview process. Often students get involved through a friend or family member. It is not necessary, though it often happens, that the student participates in their own school’s student council. Questions on the MYC, call 612-673-2708, Pam McBride on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.