A new program designed to teach young people how to become more effective leaders in their community is launching in Austin.
The Bridge Initiative is former mayoral candidate Amara Enyia’s initiative to engage more youth in community and political organizing.
The program targets teens 16 to 18. The idea, Enyia said, is to connect youth with adult mentors, like lawmakers and community activists, who are already leaders.
Symposiums and seminars will take place for adult mentors to work with youth, Enyia said, adding that she hopes parents will also take part in and lead those workshops.
“The program is meant to bridge the generational gap that exists between existing leadership,” said Enyia, who’s currently executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Enyia announced the program last month with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (7th).
The Bridge Initiative grew out of a conversation between Enyia and Davis.
Enyia was considering running for the 7th Congressional District seat next year if Davis chose not to run. After Davis announced his reelection bid, Enyia met with the congressman to talk about ways to improve the district.
“We talked about some of the crazy ideas I had in my head about how to engage young people, about how to ignite the spirit of the average resident in my community to get involved and leverage their power,” she said.
The Bridge Initiative also has an adult component, Enyia said, where community activists can learn how to be more effective leaders.
“We know, for instance, that the congressman has committees on housing and economic development. Our goal is to plug (youth) into those committees, so that they’re learning but also participating. We want to plug them into that real-time work of the community.”
Enyia added that she’s looking for financial and strategic support from universities and lawmakers from Springfield, Congress and the Chicago City Council. The universities can provide both the space for seminars but also research through their professors and students, Enyia said.
The 32-year-old Austin resident ran for mayor this past spring before dropping out of the race but drew attention as the youngest candidate in the field. Enyia and her supporters touted her youth as an asset.
Davis said her program will help leaders like himself pass along what they’ve learned to the next generation.
“If individuals are going to learn this process of becoming what we call successful, then there are certain strategies they must learn to adhere to,” the congressman said.
Other supporters of the program and potential partners include Nakisha Hobbs, founder and principal of Village Leadership Academy, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade elementary school.
Hobbs said her school is doing the kind of leadership-skill building Enyia envisions for her program. Her first-graders, for instance, pick a issue or problem in the community and come up with solutions to address it.
Jauwan Hall, an Englewood resident and student representative on the Board of Trustees at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said he supports the program because it’s connecting people with one another.
“We also, oftentimes, talk about creating a society where we tolerate each other,” Hall said, “but we don’t always talk about creating and cultivating a society where we understand each other, and that’s really what the Bridge Initiative is about.”
Enyia said the Bridge Initiative will need those community partnerships in order to grow and last.
“We’re talking with the universities. We’re looking for buy-in from the Black Caucus, from the City Council, from Springfield. So we’re tying it to these larger institutions because that’s what’s going to make it sustainable.”