The UP for Learning team is taking part in a book group where we read and discuss Why Aren’t We Doing This! Collaborating with Minors in Major Ways, by Wendy Schaetzel Lesko and Denise Webb (2023). Wendy Lesko is the co-founder of Youth Infusion, an organization that focuses on building antiracist intergenerational organizations, and the Youth Activism Project, which trains youth to become active leaders in their communities. Denise Webb is a youth advocate with experience working with the Sunrise Movement and the Partnership for Southern Equity. Their book is a practical and inspiring guide to infusing youth voice in organizations, agencies, and businesses, and features testimonials from youth and adults who have achieved incredible success through collaboration. 

Each week a different UP team member has facilitated discussions about particular sections of the book, and we have been inspired by the many remarkable testimonials, including stories of youth voice leading to policy change and successful local and state-wide initiatives. Some of the examples include the story of a team of youth co-designing a $30 million recreation center in Hampton, Virginia, and the Baltimore, Maryland-based Healing Youth Alliance, which offers teens in the African American community a training series with adult mental health experts, helping participants support their peers as well as exposing them to careers in mental health and social work. The resources within the book, such as check-lists and assessments, help us to see where and how we can infuse more youth voice, both in our own organization and in the schools we partner with. 

On February 9th, Wendy and Denise joined us over Zoom for our book discussion. We were able to ask the two authors questions about their experiences with youth-adult partnership, as well as share our own “why.” Highlights of the discussion included hearing from each person about structures and processes that allow for successful youth-adult partnership, as well as thinking about how we can grow our investment in youth voice at UP.  At the close of the meeting, we all wanted to continue the conversation, and hope to have Wendy and Denise visit us again!

While reading the book we have been thrilled to see within it the testimonials of Youth Program Specialist Evelyn Monje and former youth facilitator Addie Lentzner, co-executive director of the Vermont Student Antiracism Network. Each of them offered words about the power of youth-adult partnership, and why including youth voice is essential. Addie states, “There is an entire community that makes up our world that is not being accurately included due to our internalized biases about what they are capable of. It is up to all of us to design organizations and structures WITH young people for the benefit of ALL.” 

If you are interested in learning about ways to increase youth voice in your school or organization, Why Aren’t We Doing This! is an essential resource. We are so proud of the contributions that UP staff made to the book, and look forward to our continued conversations about it.