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Business Viewpoint: Building model city for youth-driven impact

Business Viewpoint: Building model city for youth-driven impact

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It took one evening for Mkeyela, 11, to write the mission and vision statements and a three-page speech for the Hug Club, an initiative she and her friends dreamed up after watching the “Free Hugs Campaign” viral video in class.

Just a couple of weeks later, the initiative launched with a powerful speech by three young Changemakers in front of the entire school, a Hug Club box in the front hallway and hundreds of positive notes submitted and distributed to their fellow students.

Darrion, 15, entered his sophomore year fired up about college and career. He perceived that he was not being adequately prepared for post-graduation and asked his peers if they felt the same. They did.

Through his involvement with Tulsa Changemakers, our after-school leadership program, Darrion designed a career readiness program that is set to launch at his high school this fall. This summer, he interned with Tulsa Public Schools.

Our past two years of running Tulsa Changemakers has proven to us that young people can drive real and measurable impact in their schools and communities. Eleven-year-olds don’t have to wait until high school, and 15-year-olds don’t have to wait until college. When the community invests in youth, powerful things happen.

At Tulsa Changemakers, we are working to achieve our mission of empowering promising youth leaders to drive positive impact in Tulsa right now and into the future. This is in service of our vision, a future where Tulsa is a model city for youth-driven impact.

The vision is already taking form. This year, we are engaging 84 new young people (grades five through 11), primarily from the Nathan Hale and McLain feeder patterns, in our after-school program that supports them in launching a community impact project and connecting with opportunities to elevate their voices. Over the past two years, Changemakers has organized a community dialogue around gun violence, executed a tutoring and mentoring program, advocated for healthier school breakfasts and much more.

Youth-driven impact comes not only through youth-led projects like the ones spearheaded through Tulsa Changemakers. Youth also catalyze community impact by sharing their unique gifts, talents and perspectives when they are meaningfully engaged in the adult world.This, too, is already happening. In partnership with 100 Black Men of Tulsa, ONEOK engages high school students in a challenging summer internship program. The Mayor’s Office operates a Youth Council. Ramal Brown hosts The Juice, a youth-led weekly radio show on The Bobby Eaton Show. And that’s just to name a few.

Through these experiences, young people are authentically and positively engaged not as tokens but as genuine contributors. Businesses are benefiting in the long-term by establishing a talent pipeline and in the short-term from the youth’s fresh perspectives and energy. The community is benefiting from more civically engaged residents.

Your organization can help build a model city for youth-driven impact right now. Nonprofits and foundations can recruit youth to sit on their boards, government can include youth on authorities, boards and commissions, and businesses can create more youth internships and jobs.

Especially for institutions that serve youth, authentically including youth voice empowers your organization to better meet their needs.

By investing in these opportunities, you are preparing your business for a new generation of workers, developing Tulsa’s youth for lives of success and making Tulsa a stronger, better place to live.

Jake Lerner and Andrew Spector are co-founders of Tulsa Changemakers and work as program managers for Leadership Tulsa.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily the Tulsa World. To inquire about writing a Business Viewpoint column, email a short outline to Business Editor Colleen Almeida Smith at


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