Benefits of Youth Advocacy

Youth Advocacy: Healing Individuals While Changing Society

May 31, 2018

From school discipline reform to access to higher learning, youth advocates have scored major policy victories across the country. In addition to the societal benefits, new research shows that youth organizing is really good for the young advocates themselves.

An excellent report recently published by the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing illuminates how youth organizing contributes to the social-emotional and academic development of young people in powerful ways, while also promoting their civic and community engagement.

As described by Leidy Robledo, a veteran youth organizer: “It takes them from that place of isolation and darkness to a place that gives them light, it gives them a voice to be who they want to be.”

I have witnessed this transformation myself. As director of Story For All, a non-profit that harnesses the power of story to promote healing and policy change, I have watched countless young people evolve through the magic of Listening. I have seen young people, after listening to their peers and communities, turn towards their communities and their own leadership like a plant stretching to the light. It’s almost like their advocacy experience lets them step into who they really are, and who they want to be.

“It takes them from that place of isolation and darkness to a place that gives them light, it gives them a voice to be who they want to be.”

On a personal level, youth organizing enables and empowers young people to gain knowledge, think critically, and dialogue about the issues that matter to them. This reflection and conversation helps young people become more in tune with their own social identity, which in turn positively impacts their communications skills, academic performance, and the ability to empathize and relate to others across racial groups. This confidence also positively impacts their relationships with adults, as well as their ability to work collaboratively. This sense of community and purpose further empowers young people and fills them with confidence, optimism, and hope for their future.

“You can’t make any change if you’re just angry about everything.” – Student advocate in California

From an academic perspective, young people who engage in youth organizing are also highly motivated to complete high school, as well as pursue and complete secondary education. It also prepares and inspires young people to engage with their communities and civic leaders in an ongoing, constructive way.

Furthermore, youth organizing appeals to and supports young people who are often at the margins of society, who have less access to youth development or leadership opportunities, and who are most affected by the systemic failures being addressed by policy reform.

What is it about youth organizing that is so powerfully healing? The report points to four key features of youth organizing platforms that contribute to this positive impact: a supportive learning environment; leadership training and opportunities; relevance to youths’ lived experiences; and positive relationships that affirm youths’ dignity and value.

There is so much power in feeling heard. There is so much power in working together to move from thought, to speech, to action. Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of the California Endowment, calls youth organizing “a triple bottom line investment: you get an issue benefit, you get a community benefit, and you get a leadership development benefit for young people.” 

By listening to, supporting, and promoting the young leaders, hearts, lives and communities are being healed.


Learn More

Read the full report, Transforming Young People and Communities: New Findings on the Impacts of Youth Organizing (PDF).



Angela Zusman is founder and executive director of Story For All. For more information about her storytelling methodology, see her chapter “Listen: The Defeat of Oppression by Expression” in Creating Social Change Through Creativity (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017).