San Jose youngsters want a seat at the table

July 27, 2022

After feeling ignored by decision makers, the young people of San Jose form a new group to give themselves a better seat at the table.

The 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 primarily made up of young people of color, with four members serving as senior leaders. There are 16 people in the group.

“A lot of us were in other programs and foundations and we were never heard from,” said senior manager Angelina Sanchez, 20. I don’t know, you haven’t lived life yet. In fact, we know it. We see everything adults do, we don’t say anything because we’re not allowed to.

The initial idea for the group grew out of the Opportunity Youth Partnership, a coalition focused on creating education-career pathways for 16-24 year olds. Joe Herrity, the former director of Opportunity Youth Partnership and current advisor to the Youth Liberation Movement, saw the addition of a youth seat to the organization’s board of directors as a huge success, and asked if the concept could be taken further.

“Having a system where the people who have the most to gain or lose if it works don’t have a say in what it should look like is crazy,” Herrity told San Jose Spotlight.

Herrity said the group has secured about $450,000 of its $1.2 million goal for the first three years, thanks in part to grants from U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren and Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. The money will be used to help young people build the organization the way they want, Herrity said. He hopes to eventually move to a fee-for-service model in which institutions pay young people as consultants.

Sofia Jaquez, 22, found the youth liberation movement while interning with the San Jose Conservation Corps. She is delighted that the group is led by young people from the region.

“We stand ready to champion opportunities for young people and fight for policy renewal, while mentoring and inviting other young leaders to join our mission,” she told San Jose Spotlight.

The youth group has been busy since its launch in February.

In March, the organization hosted a panel on the education system at the 2022 Children’s Summit, hosted by Kids in Common.

“The adult allies were shocked and interested in us,” Sanchez said, “because they didn’t know the young people had listened to what they had planned. It was also shocking on our end, because we finally felt like I had arrived somewhere.”

More recently, the Youth Liberation Movement has worked with work2future, the city’s workforce development council, to expand the types of jobs it offers to young people. The partnership recently participated in a youth community forum.

Elisabeth Handler, the city’s economic development spokesperson, said San Jose looks forward to working with the youth group to help at-risk youth with career services, training and placement.

This fall, the Youth Liberation Movement will visit public high schools in San Jose to talk about career options after graduation. Many high school students think the only paths are work or college, Sanchez says, but she wants to raise awareness of trade schools, continuation schools and resources such as groups for teen moms.

It is still early days, but members of the Youth Liberation Movement are convinced that its youth-led approach can create change.

“It’s something people should have thought about a while ago,” Sanchez said. “If you’re going to change things for young people, on young people or around young people, it should come from young people.”

Contact Jack Delaney at [email protected]

San José Spotlight is the city’s premier nonprofit news organization dedicated to independent political and business reporting. Please support our public service journalism by clicking here.

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