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Justice Propels YouthBank Discussions

March 16, 2021

Following the killing of George Floyd last summer, amid the ensuing social unrest and the concurrent pandemic, members of Northfield YouthBank met (safely) to have honest, heart-to-heart conversations about racial justice.

The short-term result was the crafting of a commitment to anti-racism statement that the group posted on its website. But the discussions also propelled the students to commit to including both justice and equity in their philanthropic decision-making process.

Funded by Youthprise, YouthBank is an innovative youth philanthropy program in which a team of trained youth grant-makers award funds to youth-led projects in the community. In the past six years, Northfield YouthBank has given out $120,000 to projects created by and for youth. Northfield’s chapter is the most established in Minnesota, and Faribault’s chapter is one of the newest.

“This summer, we worked a lot on educating ourselves first. We did a lot of reading, and shared a lot of perspectives. It led to us incorporating the justice piece in our YouthBank values and priorities, when it comes to reviewing grants.” said Northfield High School (NHS) senior and YouthBank member Meg Tomonari.

NHS senior and YouthBank member Ryan Malecha said the deep conversations between YouthBank members were difficult to have but necessary. “We’ve learned how to be vulnerable with each other, and we make a lot of progress because of that,” he said.

This fall, the Northfield group decided to place an emphasis on funding projects that focused on racial justice and on COVID-19. “For a long time, YouthBank had focused on how equity should be part of every decision we make. But after recent events, we started including justice in our decision-making, which is really important,” said NHS junior and YouthBank member Amira Haileab. “By making our grant round more specific and relevant, it definitely struck a chord with students and inspired them.” 

Northfield YouthBank usually has 12 to 16 members. The group does not elect officers, and there are no subcommittees; each member has an equal say. It includes a balance of students from different grades and brings on new members in the spring through an application process.

Alexander Fink, who studies youth leadership development at University of Minnesota, and who has helped advise the YouthBank students, said adults could learn a lot from how the students conduct their meetings.

“They’re not afraid to have hard conversations and put in the work and struggle together, and also find a way to continue to be joyful together. It can be a model for any adult organization willing to listen,” Fink said.

For more information about Northfield YouthBank, visit healthycommunityinitiative.org/grants/youthbank/. You can also follow Northfield YouthBank on Instagram.

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