November e-news: Working in Concert

Published on November 5, 2014 | Written by


November’s edition of Youthprise’s e-news reflects on the annual Youthprise Summit, which was held in October: Youth & Adults Working in Concert. Co-presented by the Minnesota Orchestra and hosted at Orchestra Hall, the arts was a major theme throughout the event. We explored identities through #selfies, leadership opportunities in the arts and youth voice in systems change. Check out the following articles to get a taste of what went down that day!


Roberto Rivera and David Rojas

Roberto Rivera and David Rojas Sample Consciousness

by Jorge Rivas, Research Associate at Youthprise

October 17th found Orchestra Hall vibrating with a uniquely youth-centric energy. The second edition of the Youthprise Annual Summit brought youth workers, philanthropists, non-profit workers, educators and change agents of all ages together to think and co-create visions for the future of youth engagement in Minnesota. Since our inception, Youthprise has adopted disruptive innovation as a guiding principle. For the uninitiated, disruptive innovation is the practice of subverting damaged or damaging systems by providing better alternatives.

For Roberto Rivera, a Chicago native, social emotional learning is a better alternative to incarceration for at-risk teens and we’re inclined to agree. As a national thought leader in youth social entrepreneurship and transformative public education, and founder of the Good Life Organization in Chicago, Roberto led a plenary talk and breakout session on his work and visions for American youth. Joining him was David Rojas, the Apparel and Scholarship Director at the Good Life Organization and current undergraduate student at Connecticut College.

With his high-energy presentation style, Roberto took attendees through an account of his own upbringing on the mean streets of Chicago, followed by a similar account from David. Having to walk to school through gang-controlled neighborhoods, to losing friends to such violence, the two painted a picture of youth in distress but also of the resiliency, ability and determination of our young people to succeed regardless of background. Today, the Good Life Organization, or GLO, is a social enterprise that builds capacity in local leaders to support the positive development of youth for the purposes of enhancing democratic participation and academic achievement. This vision is fulfilled by building capacity in local leaders through speaking events, trainings, and the use of practical curriculum and tools that enable dialogue, critical reflection, and creative action.

In addition to his commitment to social entrepreneurship, Roberto also engages in youth Participatory Action Research (yPAR) as a part of his Hip Hope initiative. Hip Hope is a curriculum developed for young change agents that combines elements of Social-Emotional Learning and yPAR through the lens of music making. As hip-hop artists, David and Roberto acknowledge the importance of storytelling when engaging with young people. By working at the intersection of research, hip-hop culture and personal expression, Hip Hope is a great example of disruptive innovation in youth engagement.

Through curricular-based programming Hip Hope and the Good Life Organization promote intergenerational partnerships as a way of being and working. As a result it came as no surprise to us (we’ll speak for ourselves!) when Robert and David teamed up with young artists from the Meeting of the Mindz for an impromptu rap freestyle on stage. It was dope!

Somi performing in the hall

Somi performing in the hall

 Somi, Art & Impact

by Lizzy Shramko, Storyteller & Online Community Builder at Youthprise

A big emphasis of this year’s Youthprise Summit was on the arts. Hosted by the Minnesota Orchestra, the theme was a natural fit. The arts also play a large role in the out-of-school time field – improving the quality of expanded learning programs offered to young people in engaging and dynamic ways. A significant number of Youthprise grantees use the arts in their programs: from music to theater to painting. Walker West Music Academy and the Minnesota Orchestra provided music throughout the day – from lunch to breakout sessions to the final performances in the main hall.

For this special occasion we invited Somi, an international recording artist with ties to the Twin Cities, to perform for the Summit and participate in the breakout sessions. Somi is an American singer and songwriter of Rwandan and Ugandan descent. In 2011, Somi was named a TED Global Fellow and an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow. She is also the founder of the award-winning non-profit organization New Africa Live. In 2013, Somi signed her first major label deal with Sony Music to become one of the first artists on their re-launched historic jazz imprint Okeh Records. She currently shares her time between Nigeria and the United States, living in Lagos and New York City.

Somi participated in a breakout session called “Striking a Chord: The Arts as a Vehicle for Engaging Youth.” Other panelists included DeAnna Cummings from Juxtaposition Arts, Nancy Musinguzi, Youthprise’s Artist in Residence, and Dameun Strange, a musician and Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow at the Bush Foundation. The session was designed to inform attendees about how visual arts, photography and music could be used as vehicles to engage young people in learning. From photography to music to entrepreneurial approaches to art, panelists shared their experiences incorporating art into youth engagement.

After all the breakout sessions, Meeting of the Mindz, a local group of youth who use performance arts to address social issues, took to the stage in the performance hall and offered an artistic report back. Youth from MOM attended each of the sessions and performed mini skits that gave Summit participants a glimpse into all the breakout sessions. From spoken word to vocal performances to dancing, these young people wowed the crowd, receiving a standing ovation.

At the end of the conference Somi wowed the crowd with her soulful voice and accompanying piano. Her acoustic sounds filled the hall and created a powerful climate to close to conference. Her performance, and the performance of other artists and musicians throughout the conference, shed light on the power that art has in impacting people’s lives.

Participants play games and learn about youth voice in systems change

Participants play games and learn about youth voice in systems change

Youth and Systems: How Young People are a Part of Change from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Detroit

by Jorge Rivas, Research Associate at Youthprise

Systems change is integral to any plan for sustainable innovation. At Youthprise we take that line seriously and work vigorously to not only impact how youth engage with and traverse the world around them, but also give young people resources to form and build the world that they want to see. In the spirit of systems change, we were able to wrangle a crew of experts in youth-centric systems change who presented in two separate breakout sessions.

“Syncopation: Youth Voices for Equity in Education” featured friends from the dynamic arts-based education group Detroit Future Schools. DFS is an organization working to humanize education through media making in the heart of Detroit. For ten years, DFS, with presenters Nate Mullen, Andrea Claire Maio and Alicia Castaneda Lopez, has worked with young people in schools all across Detroit to develop new ways of learning and producing knowledge through the arts. Latasha Gandy from Students for Education Reform and Tiffany McGowan and Dario Otero from the Youth Diversity Union joined the session to give an update on what the Research Team and youth from four culturally diverse organizations were up to all summer.

The Youth Diversity Union, or YDU, is a pilot program between Youthprise, the Minneapolis Foundation and four other organizations designed to build diverse community organizing capacity for young people to engage in education systems change. With tremendous support from El Colegio, Migizi, Asian Media Access, Legacy Keepers and Forbes Solutions, we were able to build an 8-week summer program combining research, community organizing and education reform activism to offer a complete curriculum. Neese Parker, Youthprise Philanthropy (re)Designer is currently working with YDU members to continue their work to inject youth voice into the November 4th school board elections. YDU is also hosting a community block party on November 13th that will outline some of the things they accomplished over the summer and their goals for the future.

Summit attendees were also invited to participate in a session that covered some of those same topics. Titled “Remixing Voices: Youth Researchers and Systems Change,” David Kim and Eyenga Bokamba helped attendees paint an image of the intersections of systems building and youth knowledge. As manager of the Youthprise Research Team and Executive Director of Sprockets, respectively, the two have a unique inside scoop on the difficulties and possibilities of youth impacting systems change. Through David’s research-based methodology and Eyenga’s experience as an artist who is committed to elevating youth voice, the two made beautiful music together as they led attendees through a series of small group conversations on systems change. The session ended with theatrical presentations by participants that opened up minds, hearts and souls to the possibilities of intergenerational partnerships aligned with systems change.

While the sessions were unorthodox in more ways than one, we hope participants were able to take away one important idea: youth and adults must work together to change our world. With some luck, some research, and some art, maybe we’ll make it beautiful too.

Brass quintet performing in the hall

Brass quintet performing in the hall

Working in Concert with the Minnesota Orchestra Hall

by Lizzy Shramko, Storyteller & Online Community Builder at Youthprise

This year the Minnesota Orchestra co-presented the annual Youthprise Summit, with Orchestra Hall hosting over 200 attendees for the occasion. From the keynote to breakout sessions, Summit attendees had full access to the hall. Filled with light and acoustic technology, the content was amplified by the use of the space. The afternoon performances were even held in the performance hall itself – a beautiful venue where Minnesota Orchestra musicians play.

In addition to offering their space, the Minnesota Orchestra created content specific to the theme: youth and adults working in concert. One breakout session, “Composing Careers in the Arts,” featured a dynamic cast of leaders in the arts community. Sarah Hicks, Jessica Rau and Joel Mooney from Minnesota Orchestra and Randy Reyes from MU Performing Arts comprised the panelists. This breakout session explored the many ways people can purse a career in the arts in addition to being  a musician, actor, or artist. Panelists demonstrated that careers in the arts are as diverse as art making itself. There are countless ways to make a living surrounded by the art form that you love! Each panelist gave demonstrations of their work, shared their career journey, and encouraged participation with the work they presented.

Jessica Rau, Manager of Community Engagement and Innovation at Minnesota Orchestra described the partnership from their point of view,

The Minnesota Orchestra launched the 2014-15 season under the theme ‘All Together Now’—a theme that permeates the fabric of our organization through intentional collaboration, partnering, and inclusion. These values came to life during the Youthprise Summit at Orchestra Hall as adults and youth worked in concert to investigate arts and equity, intergenerational partnerships, and new approaches in collaborative design. The youth in this community play an important role in the development and sustainability of the arts and specifically, the Minnesota Orchestra. Arts organizations around the country are re-structuring their approach to program design, flinging the doors wide open, and providing opportunities for youth and community to have a voice. The Summit was a significant first step in showing our commitment to deepening our work with the community, providing access to classical, symphonic music, and giving you, our youth, a voice. All together now!

Another breakout session, “The Art of Conducting,” featured Sarah Hicks, conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Live at Orchestra Hall. She shared her experience conducting as a young woman. She shared her story of what it’s like to organize the actions of a hundred world-class musicians by waving a wand. She described the role of conductors as timekeepers, pathfinders, and inspirational leaders. They must point to beats and pulses—drawing out the finer subtleties of music—phrasing dynamics, and overall expressivity. This session gave attendees an up-close experience and tutorial of what conducting looks and feels like.

Our partnership with the Minnesota Orchestra was incredibly fruitful – not only did we have access to a beautiful and dynamic space, but they also lent their musical and artistic expertise to a new generation of leaders! Thanks for “working in concert” with us!


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