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Neighborhoods Working in Partnership: Youth Mobilizing for Policy Change

Neighborhoods Working in Partnership: Youth Mobilizing for Policy Change builds capacity of Detroit youth to engage in policy change so that they can have their voices heard. Hands-on workshops cover the steps and skills for policy advocacy and then youth use the tools to bring about change in issues they care about. The youth advocacy training is an effort of the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center.
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
NWP Principal Investigator Chris Coombe and Director of Community Health Programs and Strategies at Henry Ford Health System and NWP Policy Trainer Jaye Clement: Our training is designed to be interactive. It’s not something you can do online or read out of a book. It’s live and engaging. We don’t lecture as much as many trainings do; rather, we facilitate young people using their own voices and then we provide advocacy tools that get at what the youth care about and point them toward adult groups that can help them succeed.
We also have an experienced team of diverse trainers. These are leaders from community-based organizations, health
Our training is designed to be interactive. It's not something you can do online or read out of a book. It's live and engaging.
service organizations, and academic institutions who are knowledgeable about Detroit and who are able to address and facilitate discussion around core skills of policy advocacy. Our trainers know about the neighborhoods of Detroit, the political landscape, and the history of successful organizing efforts from the past, but are also able to step back and allow the youth to focus on what they are experiencing in their daily lives. That’s what differentiates us.
What are the keys to success for your program?
The key to success is building upon existing efforts in Detroit that are consistent with our values of empowerment and that are already youth driven. We start working with groups early in the advocacy process, and we provide tools throughout, but we aren’t trying to start from scratch. Our training activities focus on issues that have been identified by the group, and then we work with them to develop a plan for mobilizing toward a policy goal. 
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
 Our training takes place over a series of two to four sessions. Sometimes youth are not able to come from session to session so it can be a challenge to develop cohesion and transfer skills. It’s also a challenge to keep a pulse on what is happening with the group in between trainings. We aim to move efforts forward, but if something comes up that we hadn’t planned for we have to improvise and sometimes that can set us back. To overcome this we try to work with existing groups ready to mobilize for policy change. We stay in communication with them in between trainings and tailor our next session based on their needs and opportunities.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the last year?
One of the hardest lessons learned is that the focus for policy initiatives in Detroit shifts constantly. There are multiple priorities and issues that exist, so it is already a challenge to build up trust among diverse partners and maintain a concerted energy for a policy campaign. When the focus itself shifts, it disrupts the entire effort and that takes a toll on people. But that’s what makes our work exciting: that this is the reality we live in. This is exactly where we need to be strategic about creating 
One of the hardest lessons learned is that the focus for policy initiatives in Detroit shifts constantly.
positive policy change in a constantly changing environment.
How are you getting involved in creating system change? Please give an example?
That’s what this whole project is about. The youth identify issues, they come up with the solutions, and then we give them tools to apply those solutions through policy advocacy campaigns.
For example, early in our trainings we worked with a youth leadership program.  During that time a principal at the youths’ school was fired due to funding cutbacks. The youth didn’t agree with the decision, so they mobilized using tools from our training and some they developed themselves to organize the student body and put pressure on administrators to reinstate the principal. Their efforts attracted TV coverage. Subsequently, years later, some of the same youth protested the closure of two schools in southwest Detroit. One of those schools was ultimately kept open.   
Currently, we are involved with a youth group that wants to clean up their neighborhood and prevent future blight. One of the schools in their neighborhood was recently remodeled but the bathrooms were not, so the youth developed a campaign for “blight-free” bathrooms. They will present the campaign to the principal and other students at the school. The results aren’t in yet, but we will find out how it’s going at our next training session.
What are the youth in your program most inspired by?
It’s hard to speak on behalf of the youth. What we can say is that the youth inspire us. The youth we encounter in our trainings are so dynamic and intelligent. They strive for learning and challenge us to learn from them. They are consistently one step ahead of us. We often think that if policymakers believe things will remain the way they are, they’ve got another thing coming. Detroit’s young people are demanding better, they are gaining the tools, they are building connections with adults, they are taking on leadership roles, and they are ready to see real change. So that’s inspiring to us. 

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