Opportunity Youth Network Summit

In DC, Groups Come Together for Opportunity Youth

February 18, 2019

From across sectors, state lines, and backgrounds, the sentiments shared throughout Opportunity Week were of inspiration and the importance of connecting old knowledge with new—and uniting and to continue building a broad movement in 2019.

The most recent #OpportunityWeek, held in December, brought participants together in Washington, DC, for a week-long series of convenings focused on Opportunity Youth, young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or the workforce.

Organizations including The Forum for Youth Investment, National League of Cities, National Youth Employment Coalition, Service Year Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), Opportunity Youth United and others held 11 events spanning five days.

The week included the Opportunity Youth Network (OYN) Summit, a day-long event full of sessions that aimed to share progress and advance policy, communication, and advocacy activities to ultimately advance justice for Opportunity Youth. There, Measure of America presented the latest data on Opportunity Youth, including data on the disparities in opportunity and resources across race, place and gender. Working sessions explored how the sector as a whole could address the unique challenges faced by Opportunity Youth, including how to reconnect girls and women of color, and how to mobilize more people to advocate for Opportunity Youth.

The Reconnecting Youth Campaign—a collaborative campaign calling on Congress to invest in America's future by funding 1 million pathways to education, training, national service and employment opportunities for Opportunity Youth—shared the results of the campaign’s first year and how it helped secure $195 million in increased federal funding for Opportunity Youth. The data from Measure of America can be found here.

Opportunity Week
Participants who took part in the Service Year breakout session at the Opportunity Youth Network Summit.


Young Leaders Sharing Strength and Ideas

In addition to robust research and conversations presented by experts in the field, the week included sessions and conversations led by young changemakers themselves, eager to transfer knowledge and experiences. Opportunity Youth United’s Community Action Teams brought young leaders from rural, urban and tribal communities across the country to share knowledge about the barriers facing their specific communities and to talk about their solutions.

Community Action Team leaders shared their experiences working within their communities to empower their peers to become more civically engaged. Sitting in circles small and large, they asked and answered tough but meaningful questions to inform their work and the path forward: “How old were you when you became aware of racism?” “If you could change one thing in your community, what would it be and why?” “What do we need to do to heal ourselves and our communities?”

There were about 70 of us, ranging in age from 16 to 85, but mostly in our 20s and 30s, men and women, representing urban and rural areas. We were Black, White, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian in heritage, in keeping with OYUnited’s principle of building racial equity, healing and unity,” says Luis Bautista-Morales, Coordinator of the OYUnited Los Angeles Community Action Team, who said he was excited to share in the joy of growing the number of Community Action Teams from 10 to 17 in 2018.

Building Connections across Organizations, Issues and Policy

Many sessions during Opportunity Week aimed to brainstorm how best to equip young people to share their perspectives and stories in order to inform and move Members of Congress. One session highlighted the Global Opportunity Youth Initiative, where participants watched powerful videos of youth voices and reflect on how global work can advance the work in the United States. In the discussion that followed, participants made plans to produce a guide to help mobilize action on behalf of Opportunity Youth.

Two other products that are expected to come out of Opportunity Week: a robust policy agenda with a list of 60 must-haves for an ideal national service program for Opportunity Youth, and a pilot program and guide for advancing programmatic and policy solutions. Stay tuned!

During Opportunity Week, CLASP held a powerful panel that featured women of color discussing American systems of power and structural barriers, as part of the launch of the report, “Our ground, Our Voices Toward Economic Justice for Young Women of Color.” The report, which examines the lived experiences of young women of color through the lenses of race and gender and their intersectional impact on structural barriers, can be found here.

During the panel, Dr. Nia West-Bey, senior policy analyst with CLASP's youth team, called on all of us to help cultivate young women of color as leaders in their communities: “Let them speak. Let them lead… We need to make sure that these young people know that they are not the deficit.”

Ultimately, the week was full of insightful and actionable conversations surrounding intersectionality, mobilization, and ways to create lasting change for Opportunity Youth. 


Elly Belle is SparkAction’s content & engagement strategist and a writer with a passion for youth empowerment, advocacy, culture and media. Elly is most passionate about youth development, reproductive health, mental health, advocacy for the LGBTQIA community, immigration, and advocacy for sexual assault survivors—and she's written about all of it and more for outlets like Bust and Teen Vogue. More from Elly here.