Expanding Opportunities for Detroit Teens; Youth Voice Leads the Way

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Detroit-based afterschool program, Teen HYPE, as youth hosted stakeholders from across the city for a special brainstorming session. The gathering was an opportunity to learn more about a new cross-sector collaboration for developing a city-wide standard for youth programs. Before joining Michigan’s Children, I worked in the Teen HYPE program. It was nice to return, not as a direct-service worker, but this time with the perspective of a policy advocate.

Teen HYPE is in the beginning phase of a five-part plan to create a Youth Action Plan in Detroit. Several cities have adopted similar plans, including New Orleans, Nashville, Baltimore, and Grand Rapids. Approaches have varied with some programs originating within municipal government, as happened in Grand Rapids. In others, nonprofit organizations have initiated planning, as is the case with Teen HYPE.

The Detroit meeting attracted local officials, educators, school leaders, entrepreneurs, community organizers and residents in phase one, or the community engagement portion of the plan. Administrators from the Detroit Public School Community District were there, as well as from the Children’s Center, a major provider of clinical, behavioral and academic support for kids. Terry E. Whitfield, program officer for The Skillman Foundation, said this and other community talks will help inform the youth action plan. “It’s an exciting opportunity to actively support Detroit youth and families to have a voice in the development of this plan, through a highly engaging, community driven process,” he said.

In one tabletop exercise focused on community outreach, youth discussed ways to spread the ideas to other teens across the city. As a group, youth are savvy users of social media, and agreed that the trendy TikTok platform, already popular with high school students, could best reach their peers. “TikTok is where the young people are at. When we need to reach the older generation, we can go to Facebook,” one youth said.

The youth also said they want their plan to take into account the different communities in Detroit and adjacent enclaves – Hamtramck and Highland Park. While Detroit’s population is 80 percent Black, they made the point that including other cultural viewpoints and needs is important to them. I came away impressed by how much thought they had already placed into the plan, and their confidence in their own leadership. Teen HYPE CEO Ambra Redrick encouraged the group. “Your stories, experiences and ideas will define much-needed solutions for youth,” she said.

Hearing from the youth in particular left me believing in the potential for a project of this scope. By bringing together community leaders and allowing youth voices to be the driving force, this project can succeed.

On their website, Teen HYPE describes the process they’ve undertaken and goal this way: “Together we are creating a shared vision for young people, to which we are all accountable. We are the village.”

It’s a laudable shared vision.

Read more about Teen HYPE’s Action plan here. The project is supported by a grant from the Office of Population Affairs from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Stephen Wallace is Michigan’s Children’s regional engagement and mobilization associate. Reach him at stephen@michiganschildren.org.