Recently, 2014 OSI Community Fellow Shawn Burnett participated in a learning exchange, Opportunity Youth: A Cross-Border Dialogue, hosted by the International Youth Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The meeting brought together participants from RWJF’s (Re)Connecting Youth learning exchange between three Baltimore City agencies (The Baltimore City Public Schools’ Re-Engagement Center, the Baltimore City Health Department’s Teen Prevention Initiative and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (M.O.E.D.), Westside Youth Opportunity (YO) Center) and a peer organization in Tijuana, Mexico called Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud to share stories and insights on the best ways to help opportunity youth — young people not currently in school, work, or training — around the world.
Among the five takeaways from the meeting, which included looking beyond cultural differences to find solutions, meeting opportunity youth on their terms, engaging other community members and helping to facilitate meaningful youth contribution, was the idea of listening to what opportunity youth have to say. As Burnett explained, “I don’t own a yacht, so I’m not a subject matter expert on yachts. But, if I’m poor and in need, I am an expert about being poor and in need.”
As part of his fellowship, Burnett expanded his project Walks of ART, an organization designed to have a positive impact on the cognitive development, emotional health and social lives of underserved youth in Baltimore City through arts education, recreation and mentoring.
In the coming days, OSI-Baltimore will release a report on that looks at the relationships between youth-led organizations and local funders.