Meaningful Youth Engagement in Miami

These last few days I had the honor of going to Miami for an exciting opportunity to consult Catalyst Miami, aka the Human Services Coalition of Miami/Dade County, and to facilitate a day long seminar on meaningful youth engagement. You may have already read my post on consulting spectacular people doing awesome work, or getting ready for the seminar. This post is going to explore this Imagine Miami workshop in depth.

The night before the workshop I had a spectacular dinner at People’s BBQ in Overtown, a neighborhood near downtown Miami. There I met with my wonderful hostess, Daniella Levine, who is the E.D. of Catalyst, and Queen Brown, a spectacularly powerful advocate against youth violence in Miami. It was a humbling conversation that reinforced for me the focus on non-violence that has filled my month. I left that table with a tremendous sense of humility, knowing that the powerful work of mothers in communities ravaged by violence, people like Queen, is vitally important to the work of engaging humans in brand new ways.  

For my seminar on Meaningful Youth Engagement I was joined by 150 of the most determined learners I’ve been with in a while, including middle school students from a local school, nonprofit leaders from a variety of organizations, and concerned community members looking to learn about a truly revolutionary concept. I spent the day in full-on “Adam mode”, packed with energy and enthusiasm and completely present to the challenged, warm, and moving space we shared. And I was moved. There was so much passionate determination among the folks in the room, and I learned a lot from people there.

After a very deliberate prep time led by Lori Deus, the event coordinator from Catalyst Miami, and warm welcome from Daniella, the group was greeted by Modesto Abety, the President of the Miami Children’s Trust, who provided generous support for the event. With participants seated 10 to a table, we did some earnest small group introductions, and raced the engines to go.

The first section of the day’s event covered the basics of youth engagement. The day began without youth in the room, and when there aren’t young people participating at the very beginning of the conversation I like to begin with a memory visualization exercise that I learned a long time ago focused on helping adults remember their own young years. After that we continued with a simple discussion of three different terms that often get inter-used: Youth Voice, Youth Involvement, and Youth Engagement. After having each person define the terms for themselves, I shared my definitions. There were great conversations about different meetings, and they provided a great segue into the next conversation about the locations for meaningful youth engagement throughout our communities, all the places youth voice can and should and is being engaged throughout society today. Then we examine the Cycle of Engagement I’ve been working with over the last decade. The final component of this section of the workshop was an interactive examination of how adults and youth perceive each other, and how those views contrast and compliment across age awareness.

In the second section of the workshop, participants focused on making engagement meaningful. The basic premise behind this section is the acknowledgment that what makes some activities meaningful for some young people isn’t the same as what makes engagement meaningful for others. From there we discussed convenient versus inconvenient forms of youth voice, and how those perceptions of value, predictability, and purpose affect the engagement of young people. I led participants through a brief brainstorm focused on authentic youth engagement, and what role being concerned with “real” youth voice has in efforts to meaningfully engage young people. In the final component of this section participants examined the Ladder of Youth Involvement.

Section three of the day focused on the barriers to meaningful youth engagement. This section hones in on discrimination against youth, which is a new conceptual framework for many adults to consider. Participants were introduced to the definitions of adultism, adultcentrism, and ephebiphobia, and I shared with them the reality that youth, adults, and structures can be barriers. We acknowledged these forces in practice by examining by assessments of youth voice

The forth and last section of the workshop was focused on engaging non-traditionally engaged youth, and planning for action. We identified some typical attempts at youth engagement, and juxtaposed those against new activities that are more expansive and generally hold more potential. Under the heading, “The Widest Possible Range of Youth“, participants examined their own and their organizations’ assumptions about which youth are targeted for engagement activities, and how they’re targeted. Finally, I skimmed over different potential ways that youth can be engaged, which I later processed with the Catalyst Miami crew as another workshop for a different day.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important to acknowledge that just as all learning activities, this one was flawed and imperfect. As you can see above, there was a lot crammed into the day, and as is my tendency, I wanted to impart too much all at once. However, there was a tremendous energy among the participants and staff. With the deliberate and intentional support of Catalyst as this effort moves forward, I am sure the potential for a spectacularly wonderful future for engaging entire communities throughout Miami will burn bright.

I want to thank all the excellent staff at Catalyst Miami, especially Daniella and Lori Deus, as well as all the powerful folks who joined me as co-learners throughout the workshop. The future is ours, right now, and I look forward to working with you all as you move forward!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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