With our youth out of school for the summer, we at the Youth Leadership Institute in Fresno County viewed this summer as an amazing opportunity to engage youth from across the county in an enriching and fun six-week program. We called this group YOLA, or the Youth Organizing & Leadership Academy. Our goal was to facilitate consciousness-raising and skill-building trainings as well as to participate in community engagement events, some of which were to gain skills, others for team and relationship building.
We began the summer with an orientation where we introduced the youth to our ideas for trainings and events. We did a lot of relationship and team building and then altogether drafted a mission statement for YOLA.
YOLA Mission Statement: Vivacious youth come together with their adult partners to create and enable positive social change through leadership to build productive and caring communities for all.
During the next few weeks, we facilitated two consciousness-raising trainings. The first was a training called “Ism’s: Social Justice & Structural Racism,” where we discussed institutionalized power, privilege, and oppression. The second training was on the history of youth organizing and youth movements, where we learned about different youth-led movements that have occurred throughout history and that are occurring today.
YOLA youth also partnered with the Department of Public Health to conduct liquor store assessments. They collected data from stores throughout Fresno that sell alcohol to see what kinds of products they sell – what types of alcohol, what types of tobacco, and what kinds of healthy and unhealthy foods they sell. They noticed that liquor stores near schools tend to sell products targeted towards young people, including alcopops – or sweet flavored alcohol – and flavored cigarettes and cigars. Most of these stores, too, had very limited selections of healthy foods, if they sold any at all.
Finally, youth attended various community events. We first hosted a Spoken Word workshop with two renowned spoken word artists in the community, where the attendees had the opportunity to create their own poems. They also attended a celebratory barbecue after finishing conducting liquor store assessments. Later, some youth attended a community barbecue at the Mosqueda Center, hosted by Barrios Unidos. Finally, they attended a community forum on liquor store oversaturation, where the youth had the opportunity to share some of the knowledge that they gained while conducting liquor store assessments.