A Women's History Month Tribute
The White House Proclamation on Women’s History Month, 2023, opens with the following:
During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the countless women who have fought tirelessly and courageously for equality, justice, and opportunity in our Nation. We also reaffirm our commitment to advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls in the United States and around the world. We are mindful that we are building on the legacy of both recognized trailblazers and unsung heroines who have guided the course of American history and continue to shape its future.
This reminded me of the countless women I have known – both trailblazers and unsung heroes – who have fought tirelessly to improve the lives of young people in this country. I’ve been privileged over the years to learn from a veritable pantheon of powerful women that have led the way in transforming how we work with and alongside young people in this country.
My personal pantheon? You will not be surprised that it includes, of course, Karen Johnson Pittman – our indefatigable colleague and champion at the vanguard of “changing the odds” for youth. But there are others in this “founding” generation of youth development trailblazers. Each, in their own way, are deeply invested in how families and communities come together to support the learning and development AND how young people are powerful forces for change in their communities – in the institutions (like schools) designed to support them, and in the world more broadly. (Karen revisited some early writing that we did – about communities supporting young people and young people supporting communities – in this recent blog.)
As I celebrate these trailblazers, I realize how much each has continued to forge a path forward – “refiring, not retiring.”
As a Stanford education professor, Milbrey was voraciously curious about how and where learning happens. In the early 90’s, she co-directed a seminal five–year study on the unique role community-based organizations play in the lives of young people and families, especially for young people that were not finding all they needed at school. I was privileged to be “on the ground” for this work, training and employing young people as ethnographers in their own organizations and eventually co-authoring Urban Sanctuaries with Milbrey and Juliet. Founder of the John Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, Milbrey continues her research, writing, and activism on behalf of young people.
The imagination and implementer behind decades of transformational work, Michele has a gift for translating heady concepts into plain English while galvanizing thousands to action. With her organizing roots, she’s blended ideas and action – co-founding the Center for Youth Development with Karen Pittman, starting the New York City-focused Youth Development Institute (the jumping off point for her work with Richard Murphy and countless others on initiatives like the Beacons), and galvanizing change efforts while at the Carnegie Corporation and NYC Department of Education. Michele’s excitement for the possibilities of transforming education by centering young people is infectious. No wonder her latest endeavor is working with the team at XQ Institute, with their commitment to redesigning high schools by directly engaging young people in the design and creation process.
The powerhouse behind the Carnegie Corporation’s Matter of Time report in 1992, Jane is an indefatigable advocate for enrichment opportunities. An avid listener, she energizes with her interest. Revered for her leadership stints with The Wallace Foundation, Children’s Aid, Girls Inc., and the National Center for Community Schools, Jane “refired” in 2018 by tackling a PhD program. Her recently published dissertation – Transforming Afterschool Programs into “Engines of Development”: A Policy Analysis of the Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers – is more than a bookend. Like Jane, it is ever forward.
The architect of YouthBuild, Dorothy has always put young people at the fore of the work. Creating a program model and movement that combined educational opportunities with housing construction, for Dorothy, the impetus of the work was to “mobilize teenagers to become a positive force for change.” Encouraging young people to take the lead – whether teaching peers or testifying in Congress – Dorothy inspired and led from behind. Passionate and humble, when Dorothy stepped down from the leadership of YouthBuild, she continued her passion for lifting up the transformative power of young people by devoting her energies to Opportunity Youth United, a national movement of young people and allies working to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America.
As I name these trailblazers, I realize that what was once a narrow path has become broad and delightfully well-traveled. Each of these “founders” has forged forward in ways that actively lift up and support the “current” and “next” generation of leaders. Countless more blazing new paths.
There are so many to celebrate that we invite you to join us. Who is in your personal pantheon or women in youth development and learning? Who inspired you to begin your journey? Who encouraged you along the way? Who do you relish watching as they forge the next path?