After feeling unheard by decisionmakers, San Jose youth are forming a new group to give themselves a better seat at the table.
Youth Liberation Movement, which officially launched in February, aims to improve San Jose’s approach to housing, education, mental health and criminal justice by partnering with local institutions. The group is youth-led and mostly composed of young people of color, with four members acting as senior leaders. There are 16 people in the group.
“Many of us were in other programs and foundations and we were never heard,” said senior leader Angelina Sanchez, 20. “As young people, we’re just there as an advertisement. A lot of adults are like, ‘You don’t know anything, you haven’t lived life yet.’ We actually do know. We see everything the adults do, we just don’t say anything because we’re not allowed to.”
The initial idea for the group emerged from the Opportunity Youth Partnership, a coalition focused on creating education-to-career pathways for 16-24 year olds. Joe Herrity, the former director of Opportunity Youth Partnership and current advisor of Youth Liberation Movement, saw that adding a youth seat on the organization’s governing board was a huge success, and wondered if the concept could be pushed a step further.
“To have a system where the people who have the most to gain or lose by whether it works don’t get a voice in what it should look like—that’s crazy,” Herrity told San José Spotlight.
Herrity said the group has secured about $450,000 of its $1.2 million target for the first three years, thanks in part to grants from U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. The money will go to helping the youth build the organization as they like, Herrity said. He hopes to eventually move to a fee-for-service model in which institutions would pay youth as consultants.
Sofia Jaquez, 22, found Youth Liberation Movement while interning with San Jose Conservation Corps. She’s excited the group is led by local young people.
“We’re ready to advocate for opportunities for youth and fight for policy renewals, while also mentoring and inviting other young leaders to join our mission,” she told San José Spotlight.
The youth group has been busy since it launched in February.
In March, the organization held a panel on the education system at the 2022 Children’s Summit, which was hosted by Kids in Common.
“Adult allies were shocked and interested in us,” Sanchez said, “because they didn’t realize that youth have been listening to what they’ve been planning. It was shocking on our end too, because we finally felt like we got somewhere.”
More recently, Youth Liberation Movement has been collaborating with work2future, the city’s workforce development board, to expand the types of jobs it offers young people. The partnership recently participated in a community youth forum.
Elisabeth Handler, city economic development spokesperson, said San Jose looks forward to working with the youth group to help at-risk young people with career-track services, training and job placement.
This fall, Youth Liberation Movement will visit public high schools in San Jose to speak about career options after graduation. Many high school students think the only paths are work or college, says Sanchez, but she wants to spread awareness about trade schools, continuation schools and resources such as groups for teen mothers.
It’s still early, but Youth Liberation Movement’s members are confident its youth-led approach can create change.
“It’s something that people should have thought of a while ago,” said Sanchez. “If you’re going to be changing things for the youth, about the youth or around the youth, it should come from the youth.”
Contact Jack Delaney at [email protected]