Race, age, class, etc. are foundational to one's identity.
Approaches to decision making, programming, organizations, institutions, and systems that impact youth must be culturally responsive, especially in terms of racial and ethnic culture and identity. Cultural responsiveness acknowledges that race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and all their intersections are foundational to one’s identity and honors their meaningfulness to the individual and community. Culturally responsive approaches are not necessarily culturally-specific, but provide space for authentic cultural expression by youth and their communities. Making space for diverse cultural expression is not a box to check or a single event; it is a complex, uncomfortable, ongoing challenge that those with social and/or political power, who are disproportionately white, male, able-bodied, and middle- to upper-class, must be willing to confront head on.
One of the themes youth discussed at the ward meetings was identity, which includes increasing racial diversity, equity, togetherness, and fostering a sense of community.
Identity was a somewhat prevalent theme, with 56 responses comprising about 15% of all responses. This theme was most discussed at the meetings for Wards 6 and 8, though it was also mentioned at Wards 1, 5, 11, 13, and the Minneapolis American Indian Center, which is in Ward 6. The widespread geographic nature of the responses show that youth across the city would like futures that are more equitable and unified, and this is not bound by rage, age, or gender, as the youth at these ward meetings were diverse along these lines.
Identity is a broad theme that encompasses several topics that are all linked together by the common threads of community and equity. The identity theme seeks to ensure that youth are confident in their racial/ethnic identity, develop positive racial/ethnic identify, and are free from all forms of discrimination and gaps. The subtheme of racial diversity mostly came up in discussions of school staff, including teachers, and curriculum, showing that schools have not fully embraced and incorporated the diversity of the student body into their institutional practices. Youth called for “more Black teachers,” “diversity in classrooms,” and “More teachers of color.” Youth also spoke to personal and structural discrimination, the need for empowerment and representation, and the wish to eliminate race-based performance gaps by advocating for “Youth Empowerment,” “No Racism,” and “empowerment to fight the system.”
The cultural identities that are salient to youth are excluded from larger society in favor of white, middle-class cultural norms and expectations. As a result, resources, social capital, and power are concentrated within certain cultural groups that are not necessarily representative of the city.
Youth are knowledgeable on the cultures in which they live and are more likely to view diversity as an asset (Pew Research Center, 20118) Youth are experts on their own cultures and the culture of youth broadly, and adults must leverage this knowledge to learn from youth and inform decision making.
In terms of race and ethnicity, youth are more diverse than adults in Minneapolis, which brings regular intercultural contact that helps breed intercultural understanding and reflection on one’s own culture. Though welcoming diversity has historically been met with resistance, those who experience this adversity with a support network behind them gain strength and resilience. Institutions and public systems must draw on this strength to create stronger and more authentically diverse programs and systems.