Youth Leadership as Youth Work

by Amanda Moscoso, Global Action Project

"So what exactly do you do?" I hear that question every time I meet someone new or try to explain my reasons for not being in college. Among my peers, the thought of enjoying a job seems a bit strange: The options after high school seem to be limited to either college or a demeaning, low-paying job. So it was a bit of a shock to my family when I decided not to go to college right away. The truth was, the thought of another four years of school sounded dreadful, and I wanted to do something different.

When my college counselor suggested an internship, I immediately thought of Global Action Project, a leading youth media arts organization in New York City. Having been a youth participant for the last four years, I saw the G.A.P. office as a second home. I met with the program director and the director of training to set clear expectations for my responsibilities (both administrative and programmatic), for my part-time schedule, and for the purpose of my job. We decided that I would inaugurate a new position at G.A.P.: youth leadership coordinator.

What My Job Is

The position of youth leadership coordinator addresses an ambitious organizational goal. My job is to develop youth leadership activities and initiatives within programs and across the organization. I facilitate G.A.P.’s Youth Advisory Board, as well as SupaFriends, a media program for LGBTQ youth. I attend weekly staff meetings and take on other administrative work. Most recently, I organized our involvement in the upcoming U.S. Social Forum, a gathering of over 20,000 organizers working toward social change in the U.S.

Most of my time is spent working with the director of training to prepare program workshops and curriculum. As a natural extension of this work, I have also worked in community outreach. Another component of my job, in partnership with my high school, is to meet weekly with my college counselor in order to prepare to attend college next fall. Half of my position stipend goes toward a college scholarship that I will receive at the end of my year with G.A.P.

What My Job Means

To think about what my position means, I broke down the two words literally: youth leadership = youth as leaders. But then I thought, leaders of what? And why? One thing I love about G.A.P. is that the process doesn’t end after participants finish making their videos. Youth producers then lead workshops and facilitate activities about their film in a large variety of forums including film festivals, conferences, and small screenings. Looking at the Youth Engagement Chart created by the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, I see that G.A.P. is not just about learning how to make a film. It is about helping youth build skills to facilitate workshops, speak publicly, and educate themselves on injustices in society in order to bring their knowledge back to their communities.

Then it hit me. That’s what youth leadership means: young people taking charge and standing up for their rights as citizens. For instance, the U.S. Social Forum this June will address issues that affect the nation, such as immigration, environmental justice, and war, and will enable organizers to network toward solving those issues. A youth working group representing 17 organizations, including G.A.P., meets monthly to discuss ways to get young people to the forum as participants or presenters.

What Makes My Job Meaningful

As G.A.P.’s youth leadership coordinator, my role is to push youth to become leaders. I often find myself wondering if we would have more youth leaders if there were more positions like mine. If young people had jobs that were more responsible than just going for coffee or doing errands, they would get an education that goes beyond what any school can teach. We need job opportunities that allow young people to empower themselves and those around them. Creating such empowering positions requires planning and structure. Here are a few crucial components we’ve learned at G.A.P. that can help make such positions successful for young people and their organizations:

  • Clear expectations. Being part of designing my job description was extremely helpful for me (and my parents) to understand how I would focus my time at G.A.P.
  • Support. It’s important to have a person or two to whom I can go to check my work and get feedback.
  • Structure and resources. When we were putting together my job description, we determined that I would attend staff meetings. Since I co-facilitate programs, I can give other facilitators input on how to ensure youth leadership in their activities.
  • Partnerships. Collaborating with my college counselor is valuable not only because it helps my parents feel better about my decision to work with G.A.P., but also because I have been able to connect my work as youth leadership coordinator to the importance of continuing my education.

After working with G.A.P this year, I now look forward to college as a way to receive a different kind of education. My "year off" is not a vacation, but rather an experience that has changed my perspective. What better way is there to inspire young people to be tomorrow’s leaders than to arm them with tools and education they need to be leaders today?

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In this Issue


Anne Lawrence
Amanda Moscoso
Sabrina Evans-Ellis
Elizabeth Sosa


Jan Gallagher

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