Neese Parker: Reflections on Youth Engagement

Amazing work can be manifested when you invest in the young people in your communities. I’m a young professional and during my time at Youthprise I have gained facilitation experience in research, philanthropy, design thinking, and policy advocacy. This was all accomplished because of Youthprise’s approach to using youth partnerships in their work and my commitment to learning and growing in my position as a young person.

Neese Parker

Youth Engagement Manager, Youthprise

As the Youth Engagement Manager at an organization whose core focus area is racial equity and youth engagement, it’s imperative that I work to ensure that young people of color are the root of all the branches of our work.

Shifting Systems

In order to do this effectively, we cannot rely on the systems that have consistently neglected the voices of young people of color for many years. In order to give authentic opportunities to young folks we have to create positions that provide leadership roles and pathways to success for the youth we work with. To create these pathways, Youthprise utilizes networks like YouthBank USA, an adaptive strategy of youth-led grantmaking entities in Minnesota, and YPAR, a framework that uses radical research as a way to inclusively support the leadership and richness of knowledge of youth that are most impacted by disparities.

To respond to the need to institutionalize youth-centered approaches to our work internally, I have worked with other young people to develop the “Youthprise Bill of Rights”, which we will publish in the future. This is a manual to guide our work when partnering with young people. This document was created in partnership with young people of color after an intensive conversation that confronted hidden realities and cultures youth face in the workplace. Below are some of my reflections on youth engagement practices that I formed while working on the Youthprise Bill of Rights.


A huge component of the Youthprise Bill of Rights pertains to the compensation of young people. When partnering with young people, it is important pay them what they are worth, not only based on education but experience. Young people bring an experience that adults do not have access to and they should be compensated for the expertise they bring to the table. Often, young people are contracted out and not on staff. If you have a young person who is independently contracting with your organization, pay them as you do your employees. If employees make a certain amount per hour with full benefits, then be sure to compensate the youth contractor (who may not have benefits such as paid time off) by paying them time and a half. Other ways to make sure young people are being compensated fairly is by providing other types of benefits. Things like offering food, transportation assistance and investing into skill building opportunities can go a long way when attempting to provide holistic support.

Office Culture

Another component of the Bill of Rights pertains to office culture. Young people are constantly being judged on what they are able or unable to bring to the table based upon what they are wearing, where they live or even how they interact with their peers. Let them wear what they want and be who they are without any expectation of conformity to your space. Rather conform your space to allow young people to be comfortable in their own traditions and cultures. Allow young people to have a safe space at the organization they are providing their services to. Check in on young people and acknowledge the realities of their lives. Young people not only need a safe space but also a safe person to talk to. Assign a mentor that can understand and respect their boundaries, advocate for their wellbeing and listen to their stories when they need to be heard.

Hiring Practices

Lastly, the Bill of Rights speaks to hiring practices. Organizations should be strategic about your recruitment and hiring processes for young people. Nonprofits can sometimes suffer from the “find a young person” syndrome. This causes young people to be put in awkward positions of representing a topic that they are not passionate about or given opportunities they don’t feel a connection with. To avoid this, find young people who are passionate about the given subject and whose goals are aligned with the project objectives. Acknowledge the power structures that exist by being intentional about who is leading. Create youth/adult partnerships with shared power, giving young people responsibilities that are realistic and achievable.

More to come

We are continuing to work on the Bill of Rights and are committed to fostering an internal culture of respect and safety for young people. Stay tuned for a completed document that includes guidelines around safe spaces and activities that can help organizations adjust their own culture to be more youth-centered.

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