Picture this, it’s summer time in DC, the weather is warm, it’s summer barbecue season, baseball is in session, and school is out. But what does that mean for teenagers in DC? Some will indulge in extracurricular activities, others will travel with their families, but for over 12,000 youth in DC, summer time means a summer job. Each year the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) serves youth in DC ages 14-24. According to the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor, the program is one of the largest in the county. “The Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program is notable for its broad scope, serving more youth per capita than any of the [top] eight other cities.” In fact, many DC natives receive their first ever summer job through the MBSYEP program. 

While job sites vary all over the city, from public and private sector organizations, to positions in schools and nonprofits, Mikva Challenge DC has a unique opportunity for youth in DC. Every summer Mikva DC provides 10-15 exceptional youth leaders with internships at local elected officials, DC agencies, and policy organizations offices. This past summer we had one of the best cohorts yet. Let us tell you a little more about three of them, who, created truly impactful projects at their respective sites. 

First, there’s Jordyn, a Banneker student who participated in Mikva DC’s Project Soapbox program, and was placed in Councilmember At-Large, David Grosso’s office. Prior to Jordyn’s fellowship, she took a keen interest in entrepreneurship, but this summer, she wanted to explore the public sector field to gain new skills and learn about future career possibilities. After learning about Councilmember Grosso’s role as Chair of the DC City Council’s Education Committee, she decided to create her own research project to move the office’s work forward.  Through her participation with Mikva DC’s programming, she learned the relevance and value of youth voice. Her project idea was a proposal for a teen ambassador with the DC Council. The proposal included a role description, requirements, responsibilities, as well as application and interview questions for the prospective student. She even had an opportunity to present her project to Councilmember David Grosso, who also chairs the Education Committee. Jordyn combined her passion and leadership to make sure that young people had a more inclusive role in local government. 

Speaking of having a more inclusive role in government, our Summer Fellow, Quadri had just that. For the first time ever, Mikva DC was granted the opportunity to have a student hosted within the Policy Office in the Office of the Attorney General. There, Quadri was part of the High School Advisory Council where he had helped craft a bill to create more thoughtful protocols when arresting very young minors. A bill recommendation by an informed high school student is youth voice at it’s best.

All of our young people take different approaches to issues. While some try and find new solutions and policies that should be created, others began to look at what exists to find out what’s missing. Our summer fellow Angeles, a new youth to Mikva DC, is a young woman who is both passionate and resilient. In her internship with Councilmember Elissa Silverman, she conducted various research over the summer around protections and rights of employees in DC. In the midst of her research, she reflected on her own life and social injustices that existed. From that she reflected on the issue of domestic and relationship violence and whether she learned about healthy relationships and how to identify harmful signs of relationship and/or domestic violence in her K-12 schooling. Angeles took it upon herself to conduct her own research. She created a survey about whether or not students learned about domestic violence in schools at any point in their education. She received an overwhelming amount of feedback with over 300 responses, and 81% of those surveyed responded that they did not learn about relationship violence in schools. From there, Angeles collected data about resources and practices that schools, and the DC Council, could use to make sure young people were exposed to information about domestic violence at an earlier age, to ensure their safety and promote healthy relationships. Now her data is being considered as a resource for the DC Council to best move forward in this work, and she will be presenting her findings to students in another youth voice organization, Critical Exposure, soon. 

If nothing else is evident from just these few project highlights, it’s that it doesn’t take an adult to lead. We know that young people are leaders now.  We, adults, should listen.