The Importance of Youth Empowerment in Community Development

By Keyana McCraney

Community development and sustainability are two topics not thought to be discussed by youth. In fact, sustainability is different things to members of different communities. Sustainability is meeting the needs of our current generations without sacrificing the needs of future generations. Sustainability can only be met through community and youth engagement, which is the core of the development process. To get youth engagement you must empower youth voices.

During the last Sustainability Action Agenda meeting three youth members of Eastside Community Network felt as though some participants didn’t value their opinions. As the youth highlighted the importance of job availability in order to pay for things such as drivers training, one of the community members attempted to lecture them on drug and alcohol use. Although the three students have a slew of accomplishments each. Throughout the entire breakout session the youth members felt as though they were being constantly attacked. Fortunately there were some members of the meeting that attempted to defer the conversation in order to focus on what the youth were mentioning. Once the students realized that they did have some sort of support to fall back on, they felt more empowered to speak up on topics.

Community developers seek youth engagement, but when youth members feel disempowered they tend to not care about the development of their community. The empowerment of youth voice can make youth want to be more involved in community things. Oftentimes youth feel as though their opinions don’t matter, hence the reason there is little to no youth participation. Youth are constantly reminded in school, at home, and in their communities to “stay in a child’s place.” How will the youth ever step out of their comfort zones in order to aid their communities with this mindset planted in them?

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