Equitable Ecosystems for Youth & Young Adults

When used well, stories can demonstrate the complexity of the changes needed and underscore the incompleteness and potential harm associated with any single proposed solution.  This is the first step towards understanding the need to disrupt the ways all of us think, talk, see, and hear on a daily basis.”  

Karen Pittman, Co-Founder & Senior Fellow, Forum for Youth Investment; Working Group Member 

The charge to understand and lift up belonging  is rooted in ideas formulated at j. powell’s Othering & Belonging Institute based on the simple idea that belonging is not just how we treat each other, but also about how we organize our economy, structures, schools, and community spaces so that everyone, with their diverse identities and histories, belongs.

Stemming from The Power You Carry convening in February 2020, the Equitable Ecosystems for Youth & Young Adults Working Group, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and facilitated by the Forum for Youth Investment, sought to explore the question:  

How can we – as researchers, young leaders, and practice experts – make sure we truly understand what it takes for adults to ensure that each and every young person is in “environments filled with safety and belonging”?

Through this question the working group looked deeply at the concepts of othering and belonging, how we treat each other (e.g., developmental practices), and the places and spaces we connect within (e.g., the ecosystem). 

Working Group Members

YOUNG LEADERS: Jazzmen Anderson; Jacob Aparicio; Thai Hare; D’Marco Johnson; Romeo Morris; Emanuelle Sippy; Tristan Slough
PRACTICE EXPERTS:Mishaela Duran; Emily Fish; Felipe Franco; Albino Garcia; Trey Hartt;  Juan Martinez; Mike O’Bryan; Kim Pham; Enid Rey; Don Wells
RESEARCHERS & NATIONAL ADVISORS: Ilene Berman; Shawn Ginwright; DeLeon Gray; Rob Jagers; Angelique Kedem; David Osher; Karen Pittman
FACILITATORS: Merita Irby; Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom

This group of young leaders, practice experts, and national advisors spent six months unpacking and lifting up examples of belonging and related concepts – relationships, safety, support, engagement, and agency. (See above for working group members.) The group paid particularly close attention to spaces that provide a counter to institutions and places that marginalize and other young people on the basis of race, class, gender, and/or immigrant status.  

Products & Resources

The Equitable Ecosystems for Youth and Young Adults Working Group’s exploration of what it takes to ensure all young people are engaged in environments filled with safety and belonging – and are supported to develop the skills and social capital that helps them navigate across multiple disparate settings — resulted in the following resources: 

Exploring Ecosystem Narratives 

Discussion resources, including sample narratives, demonstrate the power of storytelling to help us unpack the practices and policies needed to create spaces where young people develop a deep sense of belonging and opportunities for transformative development – in their own lives, in the systems that they engage in, and in their broader ecosystem.  In this package of resources you will find: 

  • Tips for Composing Ecosystem Narratives designed to support leaders in telling their own stories as they think more deeply about the complexity and connections within and between spaces in the ecosystem. 
  • Six sample narratives shared by members of the working groupThese narratives look at belonging and navigation for individuals in both settings and systems.  

    Reclaiming Belonging in a Climate of Harassment frames how Emanuelle’s experience of harassment at school, and the initial unsupportive responses from administrators, prompted a youth movement demanding the creation of safe spaces that promote belonging.  

    They Only Like Me When I Play Ball describes Sam’s experience as a Black young woman in a majority-white high school. It explores variations in settings throughout the school and how caring adult from outside the school was able to influence change in this young person’s experience and the school setting more broadly.   

    Building a (Culture) War-Free Zone shares Jazzmen’s story of how YouthBuild’s focus on developmental relationships – in their program and in their charter schools – has helped them create a culture and systems of working collaboratively with youth to address complex issues in ways that promote belonging for all.

    Loud, Outspoken, and Connected lifts up how the power of community partnerships – in this case between a community-based organization (Oasis Center) and a school system – created multiple spaces where Leo could feel he belonged and his voice and perspective could leverage systems change. 

    Beyond Systems to Community Care and Connection describes Jodi and Natasha’s experiences in the foster care system. It explores where they found a sense of community and connections that they lacked in their interactions with child welfare and highlights the power of relationships.  

    I’d Be a Sure Bet If I Weren’t Locked Out of Opportunity shares the impact of experience in the justice system on Jaleel and Terrell’s life trajectory and long-term sense of belonging. It explores the power of community supports and the need for intentional connections to those supports.  

Changing the odds for young people has never been more important