Getting Voices Heard in NYC: Youth Leadership Councils

Three New York City high school students share their experiences.

Getting Voices Heard in NYC: Youth Leadership Councils (Courtesy of Emily Munoz)

New York City Service enables youth ages 14 to 21 to serve on NYC Youth Leadership Councils (YLCs) where youth are able to get their voices heard. YLCs occur through City agencies, schools, and community organizations, and each YLC focuses on a specific issue. YLCs have enabled youth to learn and discuss mental health, justice and equity and help within communities, among other issues, 

The application for the 2022-2023 cycle included opportunities to join councils for organizations such as the Audubon Youth for Conservation & Environmental Justice, Imogen Foundation, JAIA YOUth Empowerment, Lyrics Playhouse Moorish Sudbury Institute, Osborne Association, NYC Human Resources Administration, and Jes Good Rewards Children’s Garden

(Courtesy of Karyssa Lin) 

Karyssa Lin, a rising sophomore at Fort Hamilton High School from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, started participating in the Climate Change YLC this past June. Lin’s friend encouraged her to get involved with the YLC because of Lin’s habits of environmental sustainability, including picking up trash from the floor. The Climate Change YLC met every week and sometimes on weekends, and she enjoyed the projects that focused on birds. 

Lin, 15, then decided to join the Criminal Injustice YLC in July, and she learned about this YLC through an email delivered to Climate Change YLC members. She was excited to be in person because she gets nervous on Zoom. This fall, she will continue to be part of both YLCs.

Lin has enjoyed hearing the stories of her peers on the YLCs. She has spoken with an intern at YLC about her interest in starting a crocheting club at her school, and she was given advice on how to do this. 

Lin stressed how the YLC experience supplements her high school learning. She shared that the people on YLCs are more experienced and allow her to learn more about the real world through their experiences. 

“There’s so much of an age range and people with different experiences, so the intern wanted me to speak with people,” Lin said. 

“[The YLC members] are really friendly and welcoming,” she said. She is grateful to hear other students’ ideas, and she was able to connect with another student through a mutual interest. 

Just like Lin, Emily Munoz, a rising senior at Truman High School from Allerton, The Bronx, is also part of the NYC YLCs. Munoz first joined Family Court Division YLC because of her interest in law during her sophomore year. She learned from her 10th grade law teacher that encouraged her apply to the YLC. Like most activities during that year, the experience was virtual. However, she said “the work we did was impactful.” 

“We met with the board which writes the policies for Family Court,” Munoz, 17,  said. Munoz found that this allowed her to understand that she was making real change. 

She was able to advocate for the use of restorative justice and less safety agents in schools. She then got involved with the End Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) YLC through the Mayor’s Office. 

“This YLC changed my life. I was given so many opportunities. [This YLC] widened my network,”Munoz said. One of the reasons for Munoz joining the YLC was because the YLC coordinator developed into a mentor and be a reference when she applied to an internship. Through the ENDGBV YLC, she signed up for a national poetry contest and ended up winning. 

“I was given opportunities that I would have otherwise not gotten, as a girl from the Bronx, if not for the YLCs,” Munoz said. 

Currently, she sits on the NYC Service YLC and the ENDGBV YLC. She works to create applications, ensure the process is dynamic, and recruit others to the YLCs. 

Munoz wants youth to get involved in the YLCs. She shared that youth will be in a network which helps expand their opportunities and YLCs are the way to gain opportunities. 

“What unites us is our commitment towards service,” Munoz said. 

(Courtesy of Mikaela Cabral) 

Similarly to Munoz, Mikaela Cabral, a rising sophomore at the High School of Fashion Industries from Highbridge, The Bronx, has been grateful to be part of the YLCs. She became part of the YLCs when she was in 8th grade.  “Going into my sophomore year, I enjoy meeting new people and learning about my community,” Cabral said.

Cabral, 15, has enjoyed gaining education outside of classes at school. She has found that going to YLC meetings can be more fun than the classes at school. 

Ilana Drake is a journalist from New York City and attends school in Nashville. Follow her on X: @IlanaDrake_ 

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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