Youth providing input on community issues

Solving Community Problems With Youth in Minneapolis

It’s time to start healing. But how do we create a healing community when people are hurting?

A growing percentage of youth in the United States live with major depression. According to Mental Health America, over 16 percent of youth (age 12-17) experienced a major depressive episode in 2022, almost a 9 percent increase from 2021. In Minnesota, it’s over 19 percent of youth, or 86,000. Over 2.7 million youth in the U.S. have severe depression, and multiracial youth are at the greatest risk.

We are going on three years since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. This shutdown has had a detrimental effect on the mental health of all people. But significant interruptions to in-person learning have had a disproportionate impact on historically underserved youth in Minnesota. One school in Minneapolis is working to change that.

Ella Baker Global Studies and Humanities Magnet School is a PK-8 school with a student population of 615 students (66 percent English as a second language, 90 percent students of color) from all areas of Minneapolis. Ella Baker was an influential and respected human and civil rights activist. She acquired the nickname “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches the next generation. Baker believed in the power of youth to strengthen their communities and shape their future. And Ella Baker School is living up to that belief.

Ella Baker provides multiple opportunities for learning outside of the classroom by promoting service learning, intergenerational collaboration and student-led discovery.

Every classroom has a full library with books that represent the different cultures, races, languages, ethnicities and experiences of Ella Baker students.

Every student who is struggling gets additional intervention and support.

Every student has an academic goal, and growth is monitored and shared with families.

Students are taught about their feelings and how to handle their emotions positively.

Schoolwide practices, culture and policies support social and emotional learning (SEL).

SEL teaches self-awareness, self-management, responsible decison-making, relationship skills and social awareness.

Students are taught how to problem solve and persevere through challenges.

Through authentic partnerships with families, caregivers, and the community, Ella Baker presents unique learning opportunities for its students.

That’s where we enter the story. The Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation is partnering with Ella Baker School, World Savvy (a national educational organization), the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) and ManUcan Consulting (led by community leader Manu Lewis) to develop a community solutions program with youth that helps solve community problems in Minneapolis. Ella Baker students (grades 6-8), with permission from their parents, will be part of a community solutions team composed of community leaders and local city stakeholders that includes residents, business owners, school staff, students, city councilmembers, MPD leaders, crime prevention specialists, and city leaders.

We will use World Savvy’s Knowledge to Action process as a framework for the goals of this team. Knowledge to Action (K2A) is a multistep process where youth learn about an issue, research potential solutions to address the root causes of the issue, think about how they can impact the issue, and devise an action plan to create positive change. Ella Baker students have started doing K2A in school and now will bring these lessons to the community.

Starting this summer, we will conduct four youth workshops (one every three months for a year) to solve local problems. Students will identify issues and work with the solutions team and other community members to create action plans to solve these issues. We will all work together to implement the solutions in the community. The solutions team will meet monthly with youth to discuss progress, challenges and new opportunities related to our problem-solving campaigns. The goal is to create healthy communities in Minneapolis by teaching students and the community how we can work together to solve problems.

We will provide the training, tools and opportunity to be community problem-solvers and create positive change in the communities where we live, work and play. We have started this work in our community in the Wedge, where Ella Baker School is located. We want to prove our community solutions model works, then share it with other Minneapolis communities to create a connected city that puts children first and works together to solve community problems.

The Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation and all of our partner organizations are focused on empowering the next generation of changemakers. Our work builds on LHENA’s community building work (when I was LHENA president in 2021-2022) with the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, Restorative Justice Community Action and Manu Lewis. LHENA remains focused on creating healthy, connected, restorative communities in Minneapolis, and that community building ethos defines our community solutions with youth program.

All of this starts with education. After that, the possibilities are endless.

If you are interested in learning more about our community solutions program at the Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation or being involved, please let us know. If you want to support our work, you can make a donation. All donations are tax-deductible.

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