Column: YouthZone’s new commitment to equity reshapes conversations

Claire Hemme
YouthZone column

Eq·ui·ty: the quality of being fair and impartial.

The age of good enough has come to an end, meaning equity, diversity and inclusion are quickly becoming the focus of most conversations at YouthZone. In recognition of Black History Month, we want to share some of our conscious efforts to build equity in our work. Our toolbox includes informative literature to guide discussions, client and staff input, and the professional guidance of anti-racist practitioner Jordan Curry Carter.

YouthZone knows that the fight for equity begins within ourselves, one person at a time, so we enlisted Jordan’s professional training. Jordan works with individuals and groups on racial equity knowledge, strategic guidance, and implementation. With Jordan’s help, everyone at YouthZone is learning to be more aware of ways to better understand and serve our community moving forward.

As we learn more, we continuously look at our decisions and processes to ensure we are providing equity, accessibility, and efficiency. This has resulted in several new policies at YouthZone that include waiving professional translation fees for clients, bilingual postings of employment opportunities, and catering to individual needs of our clients however we can.

The staff also started a book club in 2020 to facilitate a safe space for positive, educational conversations. “How to Be an AntiRacist” by Ibram Kendi, sparked a new awareness of racism and its deep, complicated roots in American history and current policies. This novel is still sparking enlightening conversations within the office today.

To provide a voice to our community’s youth, the YouthZone Board includes two local Hispanic student board members who’s input helps us grow. Ana Vasquez Ibarra has been a youth representative on the Board of Directors since March 2020. She joined because she sees how YouthZone pays attention to the needs of youth and struggling families, which she feels tend to be ignored.

“It’s important for youth to put their voice out there. Our voice is often misrepresented by older people in the community who feel like they know what we’re going through just because their generation went through something. Our struggles are valid just like everyone else’s, and YouthZone helps kids find their voice and know their struggles are heard and accounted for,” Anna said.

Restorative Justice Coordinator Rami El Gharib leads YouthZone’s work to serve the LGBTQ+ youth in our area. Rami collaborates with local LGBTQ+ organizations and allies to best understand local needs. Funded by a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Restorative Justice Coordinating Council, he created The Space, the valley’s first LGBTQ+ safe space for middle and high schoolers.

The Space gives local LGBTQ+ youth a place to feel supported and understood. This sort of group gives a sense of consistency and understanding that these young people might not otherwise have.

“Having lived in Lebanon as an openly gay teen, I know the importance of a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth. That space was an essential part of building self-esteem and feeling loved, and it helped shape who I am today,” Rami said.

YouthZone staff also works closely with the Department of Human Services, the school district, local court systems, and law enforcement to analyze policies and curtail inequity and systemic racism. YouthZone’s juvenile court team works hard to make schools a safe, supportive place for all students.

You can learn more about equity by keeping up with modern organizations. Nationwide, nonprofits like ACLU and movements like Black Lives Matter offer widespread information and assistance across the U.S. Reading their articles and following their updates can help you understand modern issues and solutions. You can also read informative books like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi or White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

If you are eager to join the effort to build equity here at home, consider volunteering at YouthZone. You can also volunteer or donate to other equity focused nonprofits in the valley like Literacy Outreach, United Way Battlement to the Bells, Habitat for Humanity, Aspen Family Connections, Lift-Up, SANA, Catholic Charities, Alpine Legal Services, Advocate Safehouse, or the Colorado Health Foundation.

Claire Hemme is the Communications Coordinator at YouthZone. She has a degree in Strategic Communications and Design from West Virginia University and currently completing a year of service as an Americorps VISTA volunteer.

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