Listen to young people about the issues that affect their lives

Tyshanna Evans

Tyshanna Evans

WHYY joined forces with 900AM WURD to present a youth town hall meeting in late September. Teens and young adults from the Youth WURDs radio talk show spoke to an audience about the issues affecting their lives, and the older audience members in attendance were asked to simply listen. 

Watch a video from the evening at the bottom of the page.

The following essay is from Tyshanna Evans, who spoke about the strength and importance of the youth voice.

The coalescing of the youth voice in our communities and throughout local government is essential. We often hear that we, the youth, are the future — a true statement, considering that we are next in line for the positions held currently by our elders.

As we all know, it starts from home, and our communities are our homes. Allowing strong, young voices to discuss important community issues with adults without fear of not being taken seriously can create a solid foundation for young people to thrive on.

Community organizations should host events that allow young people to work on the interpersonal communication skills they’ll use in everyday life, higher education, and career planning. For instance, if every community had two or three youth-facilitated meetings a month focusing on the strengths and talents of young people, it would allow community youth a chance to experience the benefits of taking initiative. Providing something fun for young people, a chance for them to bring new ideas to their communities, creating that sense of importance, is essential.

Knowing that you live in a place where you can initiate ideas, voice your concerns and perspectives, and simply have an open door between youth and adults can be a start to something amazing. Providing that kind of social stability can build confidence in young people. For me, it was becoming a Youth Ambassador at age 15 that gave me a platform for people to hear my voice. Working alongside adults who gave me constructive criticism made me more comfortable speaking out. We rely on help from adults to coordinate these opportunities, but mainly we need them to give us the resources, support, and space to bring our plans to fruition.

Government needs a strong youth voice, as well. We have the right to be consulted about decisions that will affect our lives. So providing a better connection between young people and the decision makers is vital. With this is mind, creating better internships for young people that are more hands-on and educational can be a start. Young people who are sincerely attracted to politics should be tasked with more than just pushing papers for a few hours a day.

Imagine that you’re a teenager who is ready to dedicate her life to politics. You’re placed in an internship at your city councilmember’s office and you’re ready to learn the ins and outs of government, and learn all there is to know about how laws are made and implemented. But instead, you’re answering phones for months, barely talking with anyone at the office, and opening letters from unhappy constituents. You’d like your work to be more aligned with your aspirations. Unfortunately, they had other plans for you.

These internships do influence career choices for young people. I know that certain sensitive information cannot be shared with a 17-year-old, but let’s be serious here: Filing papers, making runs, and answering phones is not fair. Involving youth in authentic ways offers opportunities to build skills, and it teaches young people that we have to “walk the walk” if we’re serious about taking initiative. All things considered, we are the future and the time for change does start with us. We need to know it, feel it, and appreciate it.

Tyshanna Evans is 19 years old, the youngest of three and the only girl. She currently attends Community College of Philadelphia. She takes pride in speaking on behalf of the youth voice and its importance in society.

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