For 25 years, the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) has partnered with tens of thousands of youth across the country, particularly in California, to amplify youth voices and change dangerous and oppressive environments. We are reminded time and again that youth-led change can only come when youth are safe, seen, and alive. However, the recent fatal shootings of Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, and Dylan Noble (of our own Fresno) have come in a context of heightened national awareness of officer-involved shootings that threaten those very youth voices.
And while we will reserve judgment on these recent killings until all the evidence can be seen by a jury, it cannot be ignored that youth of color, like those we serve, are far more vulnerable in incidents like these than others. Regardless of the outcome of any of the ongoing investigations, too many of our youth are dying. That must stop.
Indeed, three of the communities we serve — San Mateo, San Francisco, and Fresno — have all experienced tragic killings of our youth over just the past 2 years. These are senseless losses that we still mourn. But we also mourn the recent senseless killings of police officers in Texas and Michigan, which has deprived us of the service of men and women who worked to protect our communities. These situations are not mutually exclusive, and pitting them against each other does nothing to help us solve these complex challenges in our society.
While there are no simple solutions to these tragedies, we must at least acknowledge the problem: we, as a society, are failing to keep our youth safe, seen, and alive. The Youth Leadership Institute will continue to fight to solve that problem, echoing some of the efforts of movements like #blacklivesmatter to work tirelessly to raise that awareness in our collective consciousness that our youths’ voices are inherently precious and valuable. And we can do more. We invite you to join us in conversation and action as we explore what deeper youth-adult partnerships can look like in all of our institutions and in our public policy, such that our youth may lead the change we all so desperately seek.