Ready By 21 Follow-Up: A Drumbeat for Change

Allison Williams serves as Wyman’s Senior Vice President of Programs, and oversees Wyman’s national youth development programs, including the Teen Leadership Program, Teen Outreach Program, and inspireSTL.

Allison recently attended the Ready by 21 National Meeting, which converged hundreds of national leaders to discuss collective impact initiatives, policy alignment and program quality improvement, all focused on improving the odds for young people. The following is her reflection on that meeting.

Listening to leaders from Baltimore tell the narrative of their city, and the crisis sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, struck a familiar chord for me as a St. Louisan. Substitute Michael Brown’s name, and I was transported to my hometown.

I heard narratives of racial disparities and segregation that have been years in the making, and supported by systems and policies. I heard stories of housing, law, justice and education that are failing our young people, and perpetuating harmful realities. I heard about toxic stress that is multiplied on those who are most vulnerable.

And, finally, I heard a call to work differently… A call to lead on behalf of what is right, just and moral.

  • We must challenge ourselves not to settle. We must challenge ourselves to constantly improve our practice with young people, and deliver the best that research can offer.
  • We must be tenacious in viewing our communities through a lens of equity. We must identify inequities when we see them, and act on behalf of change. The disparities for young people of color and those who are low-income are deep and real. We must recreate systems anchored in equity.
  • We must require our systems, which too often fail the most vulnerable youth and families, to put the well-being of young people – not the well-being of the system – at the forefront.
  • Work in silos is counterproductive. We must take a collective approach to align resources, systems, and policies that offers robust support for young people.
  • We must rally for equitable policies that provide the flexibility needed for communities to truly address arising needs and conditions, rather than being stymied by layers of conflicting rules and regulations.
  • Most importantly, we must acknowledge the brilliance of our young people to co-create solutions and responses, and lead the way to profound community change, improvement, and ultimately, growth.

I did not hear anything new, yet everything I heard was critical. We need to hear it, practice it, hear it again, and act constantly until this dynamic approach becomes the way we support young people.

The circumstances in Baltimore and St. Louis are the realities for far too many communities around our nation, for far too many young people. We did not come to these circumstances overnight – and we won’t resolve them overnight.

Change and addressing inequities calls us to be steadfast in these conversations and to be steadfast in the work. Thanks, Forum for Youth Investment, for beating the steady but urgent drumbeat for change.