By Alejandra López Bravo

I’m humbled and hopeful as we celebrate the completion of the first cohort of participants of the LEVEL Youth Policy Program (YPP). There’s so much to process and so many learnings to gather from the participants and their policy projects.

YPP is very dear to me. It aligns with my personal, professional, and community commitments to racial justice. My experience in YPP confirmed there’s a lot to unlearn, learn, and re-learn as we continue in the process of recognizing and valuing the strong leadership of Indigenous and racialized communities. It has also highlighted the need to recognize power dynamics and the importance of building trust and standing in solidarity with each other. This was also part of the reason why we were intentional about developing the curriculum and inviting faculty that reflected the leadership of the participants’ communities and their experiences. I feel deep gratitude towards all the YPP participants, the faculty and everyone involved in making this policy program a unique learning space.

Going into the first cohort of YPP, our expectations were high. We asked young Indigenous and refugee and immigrant leaders—whose lives are already full and actively involved in their communities—to commit to seven months of learning and developing policy projects. As we grounded this program and learnings in decolonizing practices, we witnessed how the participants lifted each other up, listened to one another, held each other accountable, and unlearned and learned from each other. So much magic happened! The solidarity between Indigenous and racialized immigrant and refugee participants was woven throughout the program and was reflected in their individual policy projects and practice. I’m confident the relationships built will last a lifetime.

Throughout the program, we introduced the practice of doing a land acknowledgment in the different languages that each of the participants brought to the group. They practiced sharing their understanding of the importance of this acknowledgment on their personal life and the advocacy and policy work that they want to do. This practice became a powerful way to reclaim language and identity for everyone that courageously volunteered to do it at the beginning of each of the modules. It also allowed everyone to reflect on how they could individually and collectively move from land acknowledgment to land back and our shared responsibility to support self-determination for Indigenous Peoples of this land.

Moments and experiences like this show the importance of creating a learning space that brings together communities of young people who would otherwise rarely have an opportunity to connect with each other. While it was a roller coaster of emotions, hard work, and commitment, I see it as necessary when working towards decolonizing and centering the experiences of Indigenous and racialized migrant communities. This work requires ongoing learning and self-awareness, but it needs to happen and is so meaningful and worthwhile.

When you read how the final policy projects draw from the experiences of the participants and the issues and gifts their communities bring, it speaks to the urgent need to have these voices shaping policy and systems. Ultimately, the YPP participants are policy scholars and need to be recognized as such. They need to be included in the policy conversations and their knowledge needs to be valued and compensated for.

My hope for the next cohort of participants is that we continue to create a learning space where they can show up as their full selves and reflect collectively about things that they feel passionate about and the issues that impact their lives and their communities. I’m excited to meet the next group of YPP policy scholars and to witness the gifts, contributions, and experiences they have to offer.

Alejandra López Bravo is the manager of the LEVEL Youth Policy Program at Vancouver Foundation. Applications for the next cohort of the LEVEL Youth Policy Program will open early November 2019. If you’d like to stay updated, please sign up for email alerts at https://levelvf.ca/#stay-in-touch