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Finding My Voice through the Minneapolis Youth Congress

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I have more responsibility and I feel like I have more power here.”

Chelsea moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, from Zimbabwe in 2017. She was an eighth grader at the time and found it challenging to find her place in a new city and country. She found a sense of belonging as a member of the Minneapolis Youth Congress (MYC) — a governing body of young people, ages 13 to 19, who advise local elected officials and agencies on policies and programs that affect them. Here’s more from Chelsea, in her own words.

When I first came, I didn’t know how to speak English well. I first heard about MYC during summer classes, and immediately wanted to join in order to become more involved in the community, and build my leadership.

We have about 50 MYC members [across the city] so I made a lot of friends, and they gave me opportunities to get out there. I learned to be more confident and my English got better.

Where I am from, you are not really heard, you’re just seen as kids. There's nothing wrong with that; it is part of our culture. But when I came here, it made me believe in empowerment, that I can actually do something. I can help the city, and feel more listened to.

For example, through MYC, I have met with the mayor and the chief police. As a group, we can start conversations and ask real questions. I have more responsibility and I feel like I have more power here.

Most recently, I've been part of creating our city’s Youth Master Plan. Basically, we went to different wards in Minneapolis and collected information from youth about the things that they want to see change over the next five years.

I had the opportunity to facilitate a lot of those discussions. Youth came and talked about the transportation system, their relationship with the police, the education system and stuff like that. After that, we summarized the information and worked on reports. The [MYC staff] coordinators are now finalizing our reports to show to people in power.

It has made me feel welcome to be able to choose what I want to do, what I'm interested in, being given opportunities to speak to [people in positions of] power, and [having] the confidence to do it. Our [adult] coordinators are patient. Even though we're in professional settings, they understand where we're coming from. They teach us, they make sure that we understand what we’re talking about. They understand that they're not working with adults, they're working with youths.

The Minneapolis Youth Congress accepts everyone. It doesn't matter your background, everyone is welcomed. I like that because we're everyone has a chance to speak out. No group is left in the dark.