Reflections on Being a Youth Innovator
This summer marks one year since the inception of Youthprise’s Innovator Collective. The program was established in 2012 as a way to integrate young people into the mission and work of
Youthprise. The Innovator Collective provides an opportunity for youth (aged 16-25) to engage in authentic, transferable professional experience while making meaningful contributions to the programs and services for youth across the state. In March, five new innovators were hired.
The current Innovator Collective is composed of:
Shanell McCoy, Arts
Alexandria Rice, Youth Engagement
Alyssa Roach, Development
Paris Carruthers, Research and Evaluation AmeriCorps Promise Fellow
De’ Arreon Robinson, Research and Evaluation AmeriCorps Promise Fellow
Bella Larson, Focus Group Facilitator
Jorge Rivas, Focus Group Facilitator
High school is a place that teaches you to conform. From the first day of school to the last day, and every other day in between, you had to belong to specific group. You had to eat, walk to class, attend sports games, and go to prom with that group. You had to dress, think, and act like that group. Whether you were an athlete or an outcast, you had a group. I hated high school. My motto was, “as soon as high school ends, my life will begin”.
Graduation had to be the greatest day of my entire life. I was that prisoner that was released from a decade of confinement. I could see light! I had the world in my hands at that moment. The only problem was I didn’t know what was to come next. I had the world but I didn’t know what to do with it.
The summer of 2012 will go down as one of the best summers I’ve ever have. I was one of seven interns at Youthprise. Of my fellow interns, some were in college and some had just graduated college. Some were a little weird, some were quiet, and some were very talkative. My instinct was to fit in. Who in this group could I most relate with? Who did I have the most in common with? Who could I tell jokes and laugh with?
Initially, I formed relationships with people who fit my criteria. I conversed with the interns I thought I could identify with most. I created one or two friendships and kept a polite acquaintance with those who I figured I’d have no connection with. The interns were friendly but not very close. We came in the office, did our work, and left.
Around late July or early August, some of the other interns had planned to meet at another intern’s house. When I was invited, initially I said no. How weird was that to just to go to somebody’s house? What were we going to do? I had my perceptions about certain people in the group. I didn’t just want to start spending time with them. But then again, maybe the brain formed by the exclusivity of high school turned me into some popularity seeking loner. Maybe I needed to step outside of my box just one time and see what these people were really all about.
Eventually I agreed to meet up with the other interns. I couldn’t lie to myself, I was excited. The other interns said something about doing this thing called Circle. It started with one of the interns explaining the concept of the activity. He read an excerpt about the beauty of silence. After, he asked the group to fall into silence and just listen. I was skeptical at first, but listening to silence was actually relaxing. I listened to the sound of the wind blowing past the trees, birds chirping, and the hum of the air conditioner. This was the start of my new mind. My mind was free. Suddenly I was open to listening.
At that moment I realized that life had a deeper meaning than the artificial goal of “fitting in”. The Circle activity with the other interns taught me how to listen and to accept different perspectives even when I disagreed with them. The people that I worked with suddenly became friends. Although we were different, we were human. We were young and we had opinions about everything. I learned how to engage in intellectual conversation. I figured out where I stood on certain issues. Circle with the interns revealed to myself who Shanell McCoy really was.
There was a different energy in the office the next day. We weren’t colleagues, we were friends. We laughed together, shared our work with each other, and talked about things other than the job. We were called the Innovator Collective. We never really owned that title until the day after Circle. We were innovators in that we all brought something different to the conversation. We were a collective in that we shared a common goal.
I walked away from that summer internship at Youthprise a completely different person. I still hated high school, but I had a new appreciation for life. Life was not about fitting in and being an outcast when you didn’t. Life was about finding your own happiness, accepting the differences around you, and learning from the things you least understand. My world as I knew it began to make sense. I had security in myself for the first time and actual friends I could relate to and have intellectual conversations with.
By the end of the summer many of the interns moved on with school and other job opportunities. When the new Innovator Collective started this spring, I was very skeptical. I didn’t know how these new innovators would compare to the ones I had become so close with.
It’s too soon to tell. The vibe in the office is definitely different. Having more youth in the office again is wonderful. I feel like we’ve just started to break the ice. I am very excited to see what this collective will turn into.
Although it’s only been a year, I have grown so much since I graduated high school. I owe a lot of my growth to Youthprise and the Innovator Collective. I hope that the new innovators will walk away with the experience I have. Time will only tell!