Youth Leadership Institute builds communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive community change that promotes social justice and racial equity.

If it wasn't for yli I wouldn't have become so passionate about city planning and the intersections of the built environment, class, race, gender, and life expectancy. I had so much guidance from leaders who truly cared about me and wanted to teach me to become a great writer and advocate for my community.
Karla Martinez, Alumni


Let’s be clear about something. This isn’t some nice after-school program.

Sure they’re young. But young people don’t enter through our doors just for fun. They come here looking to make change.

They see what’s going on in our neighborhoods. In our communities. In our country. They notice the liquor stores on every corner, the payday loan sharks, the prison-like school systems. These are symptoms of the vast inequities within our society, and they know it.

They aren’t going to wait for someone else to make it better. So young people are banding together — drawing on the immense assets within themselves and their communities — to confront these systemic problems head on.

These are the youth of 21st century America. Well-informed and articulate. Unafraid to speak up. They know that regular people have the power to form movements and to impact policies and societal norms. They believe – know – that they can create change. This is leadership, redefined.

At yli, we support just that. We harness all that energy, that passion, that uncompromising optimism, and shape it into something powerful and transformative. Our team of adult allies acts as mentors and sounding boards. Our suite of proprietary training tools guides young people in how to be articulate presenters, capable listeners, compelling storytellers, dogged organizers, savvy politicians and inspiring community advocates.

And our history shows that we are succeeding: young people have secured over 130 policy wins across the state. Wins that directly affect our communities. And we’re taking what we’ve learned alongside youth to organizations all over the world through our Training and Consulting Services.

Change happens when conversations take place. At yli, we believe that conversations of real significance only occur when all voices are heard. And we’re here to ensure that youth voice is heard. Loud and clear.

yli taught me that admitting when you aren’t sure, being vulnerable, and asking for support is a part of what makes a strong leader. There is no way to be a strong leader in isolation. I grew into a more interdependent, team-oriented, and leader-full mentality during my years at yli.
Erika Céspedes, Former Staff

Our Core Values


Young people are profoundly impacted by policies affecting their communities. yli brings youth to the table and works to institutionalize youth voice in the decision-making process.


A wellspring of fresh perspectives and ideas, youth can often see a way forward where adults cannot. yli’s youth development strategy encourages youth to identify and implement their own solutions to the issues their communities face.


Throughout history, young people have ignited and led social justice movements to create a better world for everyone. yli helps them to focus their attention on the root causes of injustice, and sharpen the skills they need to tackle them. 


Nobody can do it alone! Through relationship and coalition-building, yli feeds the connective tissue within our communities to power our movements with the brilliance, resourcefulness, and wisdom of our partners.