Presenter in front of audience with equality vs. equity drawing

"Though we are Small, we Try Hard": Centering Youth Voices through Collaboration


Wilder’s Community Initiatives team works alongside communities to address complex challenges involving our systems, organizations, communities and individuals. Recently, our team committed ourselves to ensuring that all of our work advances racial equity.

Recognizing that this work must be done intergenerationally in order to be relevant and sustainable, we wanted to disrupt our ageist patterns of thinking and organizing by engaging the thoughts, experiences, feelings, and voices of young people first. They are not just the leaders of tomorrow, but are also powerful leaders and co-creators of transformative change today. 

Take A Moment:

  • What does equity mean to you?
  • In what ways is it different than equality?
  • What would an equitable world look like, feel like, and include?
  • What would it take to get there?

We didn’t have all the answers either.

Together with Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership (GGAL), the High School for Recording ArtsAvenues for Homeless Youth, and alumni from Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI), the Community Initiatives team partnered to facilitate and hold space for six different 45 minute conversations with over 70 young people ages 14-21 to think about, discuss, and share their perspectives regarding the roles of young people, intersections of identity, and building equitable communities.

Community-Driven Collaboration

Our Youth Voice conversations were designed to deconstruct limits around imagining the future, identify narratives about youth, and center the voices of young people in order to think more deeply about how young people and adults can work together to advance racial equity. 

In order to model youth voice, we worked with program alumni from Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative to design and co-facilitate with us. These youth leaders brought depth, critical thinking, and creative energy to the process.

Addressing Complex Challenges

Given Minnesota’s vast racial disparities, there are no one-size-fits all solutions – and we don’t expect there to be. Stepping into a space with tons of questions and no preconceived right answers was exhilarating and gave way to new and emergent thinking. Throughout each Youth Voice conversation, participants brought new ways of thinking and experiences that would have otherwise been missing from our Community Initiatives approach to racial equity. Each convening created more questions and food for thought to introduce into the next.

Co-Creating New Narratives 

In each Youth Voice conversation, we employed Marshall Ganz’ Public Narrative, identifying the Story of Self, Story of Us, and Story of Now throughout the conversations, which can be found at the National Democratic Institute's website.

We also intentionally identified several of the narratives – good, bad, or neutral – that young people encounter on a daily basis. This effort in itself worked to actively challenge the narratives that position young people as “lazy, apathetic, uninformed, and naïve” by turning to youth first as leaders and people who hold valuable knowledge.

The collaborative nature of this effort provided the space for youth to connect, speak, and be heard in order to shape the work of Community Initiatives, deepen the conversations occurring at their respective programs/schools and think together about co-creating opportunities to continue contributing and affecting positive social change.

Alex Lohrbach completed her graduate degree at the University of Minnesota and served as the Master of Social Work intern with the Community Initiatives team at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation during the 2015-2016 school year.

Contact Us

To learn more about our work or explore opportunities to collaborate, contact us:
Kirsten Johnson at or 651-280-2492
Sindy Morales Garcia at or 651-280-2397