Our Blog

Youth: Speaking Up and Being Seen

By Risa Wilkerson on August 27th, 2014

I’ve heard stories about a time when children were relegated to a separate dining table during large family gatherings. My father-in-law remembers eating last—leftovers after the adults enjoyed the best parts. “We got cold potatoes and chicken legs,” he said.

That was a time when children were “seen and not heard.” Thankfully, the healthy communities movement has learned to value the voices of youth. As an example, young leaders were a critical part of the healthy community advocacy efforts in Louisville, KY during their Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant. Partners recruited students in several neighborhoods to move toward a healthier culture. Through Photovoice and digital storytelling, youth identified neighborhood challenges, explored solutions and informed policies around healthy eating and active living.

During one year, about 50 youth surveyed residents in West Louisville neighborhoods and discovered that increased access to fresh, healthy foods was a top priority. Their findings helped lead to the opening of several Healthy in a Hurry corner stores that now provide fruits and vegetables in such neighborhoods as Shawnee, Chickasaw and Smoketown.

In addition, three of these youth advocates attended last year’s Southern Obesity Summit, where they shared their work and learned from others who attended from 15 southern states. The cohort of youth delegates made a huge impact, according to Katie Spears, Team Lead, Real Food Active Living at Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) They asked brilliant questions of the national panels. They participated in the strategy pillar meetings to shape the southern strategy. And youth leaders from Louisville were so enthusiastic that, by the end, they convinced conference planners to choose Louisville as the host city for the 2014 Summit.

The Southern Obesity Summit (SOS) is the largest regional obesity prevention event in the United States, drawing hundreds of participants from the 16 Southern States consisting of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

This year’s Summit takes place October 5-7, 2014 in Louisville’s downtown. Summit organizers believe Kentucky has demonstrated unparalleled leadership in the fight against obesity in the South. And, after hearing the resounding voices of Louisville’s youth leaders, they are again hosting youth delegates.

YES! is planning the youth track with four very exciting areas to explore. Youth attendees will:

          1. Explore sustainable solutions to ensure access to real food and active lifestyles.

          2. ​Learn basic advocacy and media skills to create community change.

          3. Practice movement-building skills and ​techniques to grow a campaign.​

          4. Discover ongoing campaigns and how to get involved using social media.

“SOS provides an opportunity for young people to partner with adults to create community change made with them rather than for them. Youth are gaining knowledge while spearheading advocacy in their own communities,” said Karmen Kurtz, YES! youth staff.

I have met some of Louisville’s youth leaders and was very impressed. It reminded me of my early career days working with a local nonprofit in Michigan. Helping youth lift their voices for change was one of the most rewarding parts of the job. They have so much energy and hope for the future. Their ideas are not clouded by the infamous, “Oh we tried that, it didn’t work.”

It’s time we all help our youth be seen and heard. The SOS organizers are still looking for sponsors to help more youth attend. They have connections to youth across the region who are interested in participating. Could your organization help sponsor one or two youth? Do you know others who could be sponsors? If each southern state sent even a small youth delegation to the Summit, I’m sure the ripple effect would be felt nationwide. Help us spread the word. Share this brochure and contact YES! today if you can help.



Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.