Another Life Lost, Another Shattering Verdict


by Wokie Weah, President of Youthprise
This post originally appeared on

Another not-guilty verdict

The air in Minnesota is as heavy as my heart. As we say in Liberia “my heart is not satisfied”. My heart definitely is not satisfied with the verdict in the Philando Castile case. As a Minnesotan, a mother, a grandmother and the president of a youth-centered organization, I am grieving with communities across Minnesota.

This is no accident

My thoughts go out to the family of Philando Castile, and the families of every person who experiences violence at the hands of our justice system. I was in my hotel room in Little Rock Arkansas where I was taking my 18-year-old daughter to enroll in a summer college program. Frankly I was stunned when I heard not guilty on all counts. Then I remembered the system had worked as it was intentionally designed to work. This is no accident. The tragedy of what happened is a problem created by a fundamentally flawed justice system that views people of color as threats that are worthy of the harshest forms of government force and punishment. I have written about my own fears as the mother of an African American son before. Minnesota’s future prosperity is tied to the success of young people of color and they are losing faith in our institutions and systems.


2014 data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety regarding statewide racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system indicate that youth of color continue to make up a disproportionate number of youth involved in the justice system compared to white youth.  In fact, youth of color are arrested at nearly three times the rate of white youth and alarmingly African American youth are arrested at five and half times the rate of white youth.  These disparities occur at nearly every stage of the juvenile justice system and impact all minority racial groups.  The system as it currently operates provides easy on ramps for youth of color to enter while making an exit difficult and less speedy than for white youth.  Probation data illustrates the difficulties youth of color experience exiting the system as it indicates that African American youth are offered probation at half the rate of white youth and Native American youth are offered probation at three quarters of the rate of white youth.  The data from Ramsey County where Philando Castile was stopped by the St. Anthony Police Department is even more stark.  Youth of color are arrested at nearly four times the rate of white youth which is primarily driven by the fact that African American youth are arrested at nine times the rate of white youth.  Both the current juvenile and adult justice systems operate in ways that make it easy for people of color to enter, treats them harsher than their white neighbors once in, makes it difficult for them to exit, and leaves them with an array of collateral consequences that impact them long after their involvement with the system ends.  We need to ask ourselves is this what justice should look like in Minnesota?  If you don’t believe that this is justice, the next question to ask is what can I or my organization or my community do to change the current system?

Time to follow young people’s lead

At Youthprise, we believe that young people who are the most impacted by the issues are the ones who hold the most impactful solutions. When I heard the heartbreaking verdict announced last Friday, it was young people who came to my mind. I thought of the young people who actively engage in systems to disrupt and change them, the young people who fight for their communities and whose ingenuity uplifts all of Minnesota. I thought of the young people who take their voices to the streets and march against injustice with signs in their hands and hope in their hearts. It is time to follow young people’s leads.


As a hero of mine, Nelson Mandela, once said, “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” Now is not the time to rest. Now is the time for action. In this spirit, here are five calls to action for all of stakeholders. Please join Youthprise in taking action.

To the philanthropic community:

The true role of philanthropy is to take calculated risks in support of the community vision. Invest. Now is the time to be bold and to invest in communities that are already doing the work to dismantle systems of oppression. In light of the recent events, Youthprise isinvesting $10,000 in the Philando Castile Scholarship Fund and $15,000 to an organization involved in the critical work of dismantling racism and disrupting systems.Join us in supporting the scholarship fund and supporting a non-profit involved in dismantling racism.

To communities involved in challenging systems:

We hear you, we see you, and we’ve got your back. The role of community is to challenge the status quo and support the next generation in bringing about much needed change. Thank you for showing up again and again. Continue to hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire. Urge your friends and family to show up and vote, not just in Presidential elections. Insist that schools and the educational system include their histories and perspectives. We all must take action.

To elected officials:

The role of elected officials is to represent the communities you serve. Be more courageous in implementing a racial equity agenda. Listen to the needs of your diverse constituents. You are working for the young people of Minnesota. Invest in them. Listen to them. Minnesota is losing ground as a state in terms of investments in our young people. Now more than ever we have to support the next generation of Minnesotans.

To the media:

One of the fundamental responsibilities of the media is to ensure the general welfare of the public through timely and accurate information. Do not produce superficial reporting that reproduces stereotypes; instead publish positive stories that reflect Minnesota’s diverse communities. In the past we relied on the media to keep us informed. Social media has changed all of that. Young people and community members use social media to tell stories that reflect their experiences. There is power in digital storytelling that shifts the narrative. This fall, we will be building the capacity of young people to use digital media at our annual summit hosted in partnership with Intermedia Arts and GLITCH.

To young people:

The role of young people is to step into leadership roles that disrupt existing systems. You have the power to change systems. You are already leading the charge to dismantle systems of oppression and you are already taking leadership in your communities. Continue to acquire the tools and the skillsets to work within systems that impact your lives. Unless young people engage in the systems that impact their lives, those systems will not work for young people.

To everyone:

Invest in young people and begin by investing in the Philando Castile Scholarship Fund. This fund is about honoring Philando’s legacy by supporting our state’s commitment to educating youth and giving them the tools to thrive in this world. You can read about the first scholarship recipient here. Youthprise will continue to prioritize young people. Preparing youth to lead in philanthropy, research and policy is key to real systems change.

Our work doesn’t stop at the end of a march, we will continue to call for justice and dismantle systems of oppression as long as they exist. As local artist and organizer Ricardo Levins Morales often quotes Aboriginal rights activists in Queensland, Australia:

“If you have come to help me you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”


The Power of Digital Storytelling


Shanell McCoy training Youthprise staff on the importance of social media as a storytelling tool

by Shanell McCoy, Youthprise Youth Fellow, Communications Coordinator

Storytelling can be defined in many different ways. For some, storytelling evokes childhood memories, sitting in circles as teachers read fairy tales and stories starring talking animals. For others, storytelling is simply the retelling of events through word of mouth. At Youthprise, we see storytelling as a powerful tool that can uplift the voices of the communities we serve.

In our view, storytelling isn’t just an action. Whether through word of mouth, written text, or presented on a digital platform, storytelling is a significant part of building a healthy community. Why? Because it holds the power to inform and educate others using stories that come from outside of each of our particular individual perspectives. At Youthprise, we therefore see creating socially healthy online environments for our communities as a core responsibility of our organization. And we’re proud to say that our youth staff owns this responsibility by leading our digital storytelling efforts.

Using a youth-adult, partnership model, youth on staff act  as content curators, brand managers, and communication coordinators—all while building their to tell stories.

Take Nancy Musinguzi, a recently hired youth artist. As part of her work, she wrote the story of our Community Ambassadors Initiative that operates in partnership with the city of St. Paul. Musinguzi interviewed and photographed the participants of the program including Police Chief, Thomas Smith and the young people involved. Youth fellow and Brand Manager, Adeeb Missaghi worked with  Musinguzi to design an interactive digital publication. This collaboration between youth and adults resulted in a unique storytelling opportunity unlike any other at Youthprise. And it evolved the way we communicate about our work to include the many perspectives of the communities we serve.

Ensuring young people have the opportunity to tell stories on their own terms, and following their own vision, also builds on five social-emotional learning behaviors like self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, self-management, and responsible decision-making. Youth are able to develop their unique voice, interact with different communities, both online and in person, work toward social media goals (like audience engagement, brand marketing, etc.), and make responsible decisions about the content they create and post.

All of this contributes to a socially healthy online environment—one that’s not only inclusive, but also authentic and engaging.

When youth-serving organizations and intermediaries in the out-of-school-time field engage young people using digital storytelling platforms, they’re not only giving those young people the opportunity to build their capacity as writers, they’re also pushing their own organization to be more reflective of the communities they serve. At Youthprise, we know that youth engagement isn’t a product, but a process. While messy at times, the process of engaging youth always yields results that can impact our field and our work in profound ways.

To further the impact of storytelling, Youthprise will be hosting our 2017 annual Summit in partnership with Intermedia Arts and GLITCH, a non-profit that works to educate, inspire, and equip emerging makers with the tools for success in the digital game and simulation fields. The goal of the Summit is to build the capacity of youth and youth-serving organizations in Minnesota to think differently about technology as a creative tool for advocacy, education, and collaboration. During the Summit, we’ll educate participants on the importance of digital storytelling through interactive activities, and address ways to incorporate young people in the process.

When we empower young people to control the narratives they’re most impacted by, we get authentic perspectives on our work. When we give youth the space and resources to use their voices to address issues and topics that matter most to them, we shift their role from story subjects to story authors. This process builds trust between the organization and the community,  and contributes to a socially healthy environment that invites youth to share stories and build their capacity as storytellers.

In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.”





Investing in Youth as Agents of Change

Guest post by Wokie Weah

Xue Yang wants to transform his community by providing young people with opportunities to learn more about business and make local connections. Rachel Huss, a substitute teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools, plans to create a curriculum that incorporates Theater of the Oppressed in ESL/ELL classrooms and as a tool to combat gang violence. Edwin Gonzalez sees urban farming as a tool to educate and organize youth around food justice.

Change Fellows taking part in team-building activities at the start of the fellowship. Photo courtesy of Youthprise.

Change Fellows take part in team-building activities at the start of the fellowship. Photo courtesy of Youthprise.

These are just a few of the big ideas from the first class of Youthprise “Change Fellows”—think Shark Tank with a social innovation twist. Launched this past summer, the Change Fellows program was designed by the Youthprise Innovator Collective. This group of eight worked to redefine philanthropy as a collaborative process in which young people, driven by their love for others, lead the allocation and redistribution of resources—whether time, talent, or funding—toward the just and authentic enrichment of their peers.

Acting on recommendations from the Collective, Youthprise invested in 10 fellows between the ages of 16 and 25 who are stirring up currents of change in their communities. We know that some of the most interesting innovations happen on the margins of fields by new players, and are betting that the Change Fellows will foster the kind of collaboration, dialogue and ideas that could stir up system-wide change.
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