I had the incredible privilege and pleasure of spending this last week in the Windy city. As part of the 9th Global Diplomacy Lab, we spent four days working in partnership with a number of Chicago area community partners to help generate some new ideas on tackling the intractable challenge of urban youth violence.
Chicago blew me away (of course it did! #windycity). But I was incredibly moved and impressed by the local agencies and youth participants who joined us to help this global network understand a number of complex dimensions that attribute to the these issues. I loved learning about the incredible work of Youth Guidance, and their efforts to help youth with social and emotional learning. Their flagship programs, Becoming a Man and Working on Womanhood tackle the challenges of violence by working upstream to give young people the tools they need in life. And, while the focus on youth in the neighbourhoods most impacted by poverty and violence — it’s clear how these skills are critical for all young people.
And it reminds me of a few key and essential features of outstanding youth programming:
- Young people everywhere need adult allies.
Grown-ups, we can do a tremendous amount of good by building a relationship with a young person, and wrapping them in care and love. This will teach you immensely about how to see the world, how to be generous and how your own young years shaped your life.
2. Youth programming needs to be youth-driven: adapting, continuously shifting and experimenting to reflect what young people need.
This kind of programming needs to constantly be evaluated — and can be done in informal, fluid ways to make sure that you are getting things right. Adaptive learning and program change and flexibility is challenging but can lead to exciting outcomes.
3. Conversation — and I mean real, open, and brave deep conversation and active listening is critical to success. (This is something that goes beyond youth programming).
It’s too easy to focus on what your answers are going to be rather than to be fully present in the conversation. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and to be engaged with meaningfully.
The Global Diplomacy Lab network brings with it an incredibly diverse set of experiences: we’re a community with membership from across the globe all committed to co-learning, connection and making an impact. And, this lab was an ambitious experiment to work to generate some new energy around how we could contribute to tackling urban violence. Our work, through the week was to partner with Chicago partners to co-create some new ideas that could be taken on to build on the foundations of the efforts of local community organizations. We knew coming into this conversation that we had an important responsibility to listen to local voices, to hear what was working and what could be improved.
So, what did we learn while we were in Chicago? We saw how much civic pride Chicagoans have. And, they have much to be proud of: a beautiful downtown, real community and neighbourhoods, decent public transit and a great food scene. But, they know that political challenges and distrust are real. They know that people, especially young people in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods are suffering — lack of economic opportunity, high levels of physical and emotional stress, disparities in educational programming. And, they know that they must learn to do things differently if the future of Chicago is to remain bright.
Coming out of our working sessions, a number of practical ideas and opportunities emerged that we believed would help Chicago and other global communities to face the challenges of urban violence. Three ideas that I loved included a new Community Development Bank, connecting youth advisors to mentors in our network and thinking about how teachers/adult allies in the school system could get better equity and trauma-informed response training.
Chicago, thanks for welcoming us with open arms to learn from you. We’re all in to work with you on the ideas that came from our four days together.
PS. None of this work would have happened without the incredible Marty Castro. His leadership and call to action through our network was the reason that we all were privileged to be in Chicago. Thank you, Marty!