This blog post was written by a member of the Juvenile Justice Council.

My very first experience being a facilitator was completed in front of forty State’s Attorneys in Cook County Juvenile Court; it was nerve-wracking to say the least.

I started my journey on the Juvenile Justice Council almost three years ago as a soft spoken, introverted person who had a hard time sharing their experiences. Throughout my first year on the council, I would come to session, do what I needed to do, talk to maybe one or two people, then go back home. I would admire my fellow council members who facilitated our decision maker (DM) meetings, and I could never see myself being a person who could have control over a room full of adults that made decisions about our lives as young people. I had that same mentality going into my second year on the council this past summer.

I started the summer with a brand new set of facilitators who were unlike any that I had previously had. Those five people did not take my shyness as an excuse to not push me. They took the time to understand my strengths and weaknesses, and as a veteran, they often put me in leadership roles that helped me develop my speaking skills and enabled me to trust myself as a young leader. As we went through our think tank summer, I found myself being a lot more extroverted and a lot more passionate about the work I was doing. I was friends with almost everyone on the council, and without even knowing it, I had one of the biggest leadership roles because of the trust my facilitator had in me.

Through spearheading some of the research components over the summer, I found that I had an interest in the role of the State’s Attorneys. They are the people who hold the most procedural discretion in the courtroom, and they have the most power of a court-involved young person’s life. I spent most of my time focusing on recommendations to improve the work of the State’s Attorneys, and I presented those recommendations to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and then ultimately to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. It was during this process that I gave up my dream of being a career politician and headed down a new path of wanting to fill the shoes of Kim Foxx and others like her as a State’s Attorney in Cook County Juvenile Court so that I could make a positive impact in the lives of young people, as Kim Foxx and her staff do.

So, naturally, my first experience as a facilitator would be in front of the people whom I wish to become. My council and I spent about a month prepping for our double seminars with the State’s Attorneys and the public defenders in Cook County Juvenile Court. I sought out guidance from my council members who had facilitated DM meetings before so that I would not screw this seminar up. This DM meeting was a direct implementation of a recommendation we created over the summer that State’s Attorneys should implement more youth friendly practices to create a safe space for youth voice in order to advocate more for youth voice, and so that they could create sentencing recommendations that better served youth.

The beginning of the seminar was a bit rocky. Me and my fellow head facilitator, Jatziri, had a hard time gaining control of the room initially. We could sense that some of the adults in the room did not want to be there and they thought we were going to waste their time. So, we as a council had to regroup and figure out the best way to deal with people who thought our voices did not matter. While we went through the first couple of activities on our agenda such as the reading of our White Paper and our Stand Up If activity, the attorneys had a hard time focusing and engaging in dialogue with us.

But then I noticed a shift in the mood of the meeting to a more receptive environment. During the small group reflection and the Personal Value Checklist Activity, the attorneys started to open up to the young people, and they began to listen more to our stories and our experiences in the Juvenile Justice System.

Towards the end of the seminar, I had gained control of the space and the attorneys were listening and being receptive to us.

After the completion of our Head, Heart, Feet activity, I put in our ask for a future seminar and to continue our partnership with their office. We had about five attorneys give us their contact information so they could continue to be direct partners with Mikva Challenge. Five out of forty may not seem like a lot, but as long as we got through to at least one person, that one person can make a difference – so having five was a big win for the group.