NAZA Youth Leaders Present at National Conference

Representatives from NAZA’s Youth In Action! were invited to lead a session on youth leadership and the future of afterschool programs at the 50 State Afterschool Network Meeting in Washington, D.C. on September 28-30, 2022. Four Nashville youth leaders aged 12-17 – Jordan, Nadia, Itzel, and Mary – were accompanied by Allie Duke, NAZA Youth Advisor, and Edwina Freeman, Director of Programs at NAZA partner organization DYMON.

L-R: Nashville youth leaders Nadia, Itzel, Jordan, and Mary; panel facilitator Hikma Sherka of Every Hour Counts

“Having the opportunity to respectfully speak truth to power and advocate for the needs of my peers is an experience I’ll never forget.” – Nadia

The youth leaders spoke about integrating youth voices and youth leadership in afterschool programs to approximately 400 representatives from all 50 states. Attendees included U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten and 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate Alyssa Gaines, as well as representatives from the Mott Foundation, Every Hour Counts, Youthprise, local and national non-profit organizations, and school districts throughout the country.

L-R: Marcus Pope (Youthprise), Hikma Sherka (Every Hour Counts), Jordan, and Mary

“I enjoyed being in the room where change was happening, and I am glad to be part of the people to initiate the change.” – Itzel

Nadia, Mary, Itzel, and Jordan impressed attendees with their knowledge, ingenuity, and passion. One moment that stood out to Ms. Freeman was during a Q & A panel discussion: “Our youth were asked a series of questions that were very challenging, concerning funding and what youth being a part of high-level leadership teams could look like.” Despite the pressure of being the only youth representatives at the conference, tasked with speaking on behalf of millions of youths nationwide, “[they] did not shy away from the hard questions they were asked; instead, they leaned in and posed real-life solutions and gave thought-provoking answers that equipped high-level change-makers in the room the opportunity to learn new ways to advocate for youth which included the youth.”

I met school council members and other representatives from all 50 states. We discussed youth being a part in the development of programs that they’re in, and how youth should be compensated for their work. This was important to me because I was able to discuss such an important matter that would benefit myself and peers.” – Jordan

Meaningful youth participation, voice, and leadership have been fundamental to NAZA’s work. In 2019, NAZA hired its first youth advisor (a high school senior at the time) and tasked her to develop a model of youth leadership that can be operationalized within NAZA partnerships. Since then, over 500 youth have experienced true leadership opportunities, including generating ideas for change, planning and implementing projects, receiving small funds to implement those projects in their schools and communities, speaking with city leaders, partnering with Mayor’s Youth Council, and speaking at national conferences to drive the youth agenda.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can incorporate youth voices and youth leadership, or know a young leader who would like to get involved in making change in their community, visit Youth In Action! or contact