Looking to Combat Violence? Oregon Youth Offer Concrete Advice

December 5, 2013

“Collective impact” is a popular buzzword in communities across the country. In Multnomah County, Oregon, hundreds of young people know first-hand the potential of bringing various sectors to address local issues. Three years after youth first brought together government, schools and nonprofits to tackle rising local violence, rates have stabilized and collaboration is increasingly the norm.

It all started in 2011, as the county faced its highest level of gang-involved shootings and at the same time, a spate of high-profile anti-gay violence erupted in local schools. The Multnomah Youth Commission (MYC)—a group of 13- to 21-year olds who advise local government—decided something had to be done.

First, they established a formal Youth Against Violence Committee of the MYC. Then, they wrote a public statement condemning the violence, which was picked up by local press.

Realizing they needed to understand more about the local conditions and causes, MYC members set out to become experts. They held 16 focus groups and analyzed the data with the help of a team of Department of Psychology students at Portland State University. From there, MYC members developed a series of 80 specific policy recommendations—ranging from changing school curriculum to include more on the history of the LGBTQ community and the Women’s Rights Movement and creating clear cyberbullying policies in schools to providing free, private counseling for youth involved in gangs.

For MYC alum Jackie Altamirano, now a college student, this work helped her move beyond feeling like a bystander.  It “gave me empowerment as a youth during a time when I felt I had none. It helped me know that as a young person of color I mattered and my voice does have power,” she says.

The next step for the MYC was to present the policy recommendations to the city council, county commissioners, and each school board and to identify ways that each would enforce these policies. The MYC partnered with Resolutions Northwest, a local mediation organization, to do conflict resolution training with elementary, middle and high school youth.

But they didn’t stop there. Next, MYC members literally wrote the book on youth-led solutions to violence. Over 400 local youth ages 7 to 21 shared their input and ideas with the MYC. The result is a powerful 50-page Action Plan that includes local demographics, the findings of the youth-led research, and how they developed the policies and used them to organize local youth, and why and how to hold effective local summits. 

“We want to use this action plan to not just tell our story, but also to provide young people all across the nation with a tool to get involved and address the issue of violence in their own communities,” MYC members wrote in the introduction to the book.

Since then, youth anti-violence efforts have been one of the MYC’s primary areas of focus. To date, the MYC has raised close to $230,000 for this work. A 2011 county health department survey of local youth found that participation in this work was associated with statistically significant changes in their attitudes toward the police.

The MYC’s Youth Against Violence Committee held its most recent youth summit in March 2013 and is currently working with two Portland State University capstone groups to evaluate the data collected there.

Read the Action Plan here.

About the Multnomah Youth Commission

The Multnomah Youth Commission (MYC) is the official youth policy body for Multnomah County and the City of Portland, Oregon, comprising young people ages 13 to 21. It started in 1996 as a small Multnomah County Youth Advisory Board to advise the county’s Commission on Children, Youth, Families & Community on issues that policymakers identified as priorities.  In 2002, youth members developed bylaws that shifted the group from an advisory board to a commission; the County Board approved the shift and the Multnomah Youth Commission was officially launched. Now, instead of reacting to policymakers’ goals, the members identify their own priorities and build campaigns to inform local policy.

Staffing: The MYC can have a maximum of 42 youth across the city and county. For the 2013-2014 session, the Commission includes 27 youth commissioners, supported by a full-time adult youth development coordinator, Marc Fernandes, a full-time AmeriCorps Vista worker, two part-time college students, and a part-time high school-age staff member. Official by-laws define the structure and function of the MYC.

Funding: The Youth Commission operates as a partnership between the county and the city of Portland under an intergovernmental agreement. It receives some county funds and has also raised over $300,000 in grants funders like the Penney Family Fund and StateFarm.


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This snapshot is part of SparkAction's Youth Impact series, short profiles of youth councils and commissions that are influencing local and state policies and practices. SparkAction is producing this series in partnership with the youth-led Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council and with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

To suggest an impact story, please contact Caitlin Johnson, managing editor, at caitlin@sparkaction.org.