Kayanna is the chair and city-wide commissioner of the Baltimore City Youth Commission. She recently earned her degree in metropolitan studies from Towson University. She also serves as an AmeriCorps Public Ally at Park Heights Renaissance, a community development corporation that focuses on community and economic development. She a passionate change maker committed to creating opportunities for young people in Baltimore City to succeed.
Prior to my arrival at the Fourth National Summit on Preventing Youth Violence, I was extremely excited to meet and exchange ideas with youth and leaders from across the country. I was very eager to see what cities similar to Baltimore were doing to cure the violence.
I was eager to attend the summit, to hear people’s views about Baltimore specifically following the uprising; however, I also came with the mindset that I was ready to share and give a broader understating of Baltimore to people who do not live in Baltimore. I personally believe that summits such as the National Youth Violence Prevention Summit serve as an important venue to bring diverse groups of people together, which is critical in gaining both understanding and compassion. It provides a platform to share experiences and exchange ideas. In addition, I was very eager to meet and converse with my peers as well as key leadership throughout the country. I think that it is very important to give folks that may not normally interact the opportunity to do so.
When I arrived at the Summit, I expected to see more youth in attendance. I think it would be so powerful to have something similar with more youth and young adults to be in a setting as such to exchange ideas and talk about issues that affect us and solutions to combat those issues.
One of the most important things that happened was the conversations between me and my peers. I felt solidarity in our shared experiences. Oftentimes you think that you might not have anything in common with someone across the country because of a geographical difference; however, we had many similar experiences and feelings. We talked about the work that we do and the challenges that we face on a daily basis, which almost mirrored one another.
At times I wonder if change will ever happen. I wonder if there will be serious violence prevention measures that don’t just sugarcoat the issues, but actually combat the issues. A defining moment for me was when one of the speakers posed a question to the audience. He asked, “Are you serious about the work that needs to happen?” Summits convene to talk about “the issue” yet we know the issue, and for years we’ve been having the same conversations. We know that the structure of our society is the cause of many of the ills that persons within society face. We know people live in damaged communities. We know that many youth are growing up without a nuclear family structure. We know that people don’t have jobs. We know that our education system is failing us. We know the issues and the solutions, so it bothers me that people are still dying.
If I could tell someone one thing I learned from the Summit, it would be speaking with the youth representatives from Boston and learning about their efforts to engage Boston’s youth. I learned about youth participatory budgeting, which gives youth the opportunity to truly have a say about what happens in their city and it gives them real power. I was very eager to explore it, and since the Summit, the Baltimore City Youth Commission and staff of the mayor’s office have been in contact with Boston to understand the processes and challenges that they faced in bringing youth participatory budgeting to fruition. Hopefully, it is a model that the city of Baltimore can adopt!
I loved the time spent with other youth and young adults from across the country. One thing I would change is I would have more youth and young adults attend the Summit. In addition, I would also like to see members of Congress and of the Senate in attendance. Many laws contribute to the structure of our society and the ills that members of our society face on a daily basis. We need to have stakeholders from every part of our society that can play a role in the real change that needs to happen.