Story by Claire Collins. Video by Jedarrian Jones. Photos provided by YLSC.
Dallas Doing Good has had the privilege of partnering with the Communities Foundation of Texas for North Texas Giving Day over the past few years, but this year, we are doing it Texas BIG. It is the 15th anniversary of the largest community giving event in the nation, so we have selected 15 organizations to highlight leading up to Giving Day on September 21. Early giving kicked off on September 1.
In 2014, Amber Sims was eager to attend a conference called Facing Race in her hometown of Dallas. It featured a keynote highlighting three generations of racial justice activists; however, the conference was limited to adult attendees. Amber, a young professional in her 20s at the time, immediately identified the need for a youth conference focused on racial equity that would create a pipeline of activated youth who could not only one day attend adult conferences, but become changemakers in real-time, regardless of age.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and so Young Leaders, Strong City (YLSC) was born. After serving thousands of kids, YLSC officially became a non-profit in 2020. Amber is the co-founder and executive director.
The mission of YLSC is to educate, equip, and activate a community of youth leaders prepared to realize their vision for racial justice and equity. Since 2014, over 5,000 students have participated in the YLSC program.
Though the cornerstone of programming is the Annual Summit, opportunities to engage occur year-round. By partnering with Dallas ISD and, until recently, Richardson ISD, they provide district-specific summits that focus on topics of equity, racism, and in some instances, specific incidents. For example, during the 2017-2018 school year, a meme shared by Richardson ISD students at Pearce High School went viral and received national attention. In response, district leadership contacted YLSC directly, asking for help.
“The RISD summit started as a result of this racist incident,” Amber says. “Today, even though our partnership with RISD has unfortunately ended, we still have RISD students who choose to engage with us, who lead their own racial equity clubs on their campuses.”
Termination of the partnership between Richardson ISD and YLSC is tied to activism from parent groups opposed to DEI initiatives in public schools. YLSC continues to partner with Dallas ISD and will provide district-specific summits during the current school year. While formal partnerships have been altered, Richardson ISD students continue to participate in the Annual Summit as well as the Youth Advisory Council, the youth-led leadership arm of YLSC.
Amber lauds the student leaders for finding ways to persist, despite changes.
“It really is such a powered statement to what happens when we give students agency and autonomy,” Amber says.
As laid out on their website, YLSC uses a three-pronged approach to develop youth into racial equity leaders:
Educate students on untold local histories, narratives, and inequities through the lens of race and identity.
Equip students with tools to create equity through community change.
Activate students to realize their visions for change through self-advocacy, policy change, and collaborative equity initiatives.
This methodology aligns with the Youth Engagement Continuum developed by the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing.
Additionally, you don’t have to be a North Texas school district student to participate. In 2014, adults created this platform for youth; today, youth are the ones who raise awareness about the Annual Summit and other ways to plug in. Annually, 200-250 students attend Summit– some as far away as Jasper, TX, have attended.
The 2023 Annual Summit will take place on November 11. The day features leadership development break-out sessions and meaningful discussions on identity, equity, and organizing for change. All attendees are invited to a holiday event in December to find out how to continue to plug in—they can join the youth advisory council, help plan next year’s summit, create and host workshops, and get information on how to start their own campus clubs.
“Attendance and participants are as varied as the metroplex,” Amber says. “We have students from Plano, University Park, Duncanville, DeSoto, private schools, charter schools—students spread the word.”
By participating in the advisory council and other events, students have an opportunity to learn about what is happening at other campuses and identify changes they want in their own environment.
“Dress code has been eye-opening for many of our student participants. What is allowed on some campuses vs. others is an equity issue that our student leaders have become very active in,” Amber explains. “They may not see the exact change they want, but they learn to raise their voice and make known what they want to see in their school.”
YLSC also hosts History Field Trips in the Dallas/Richardson area, focusing on “forgotten” history. Through in-person and virtual tours, students have a chance to learn and witness how issues of race and equity have shaped their communities.
Looking ahead, Amber hopes to expand official partnerships with other school districts. YLSC currently offers training to other non-profits and organizations about how to have tough conversations surrounding race and identity. She hopes opportunities to host these trainings will also grow.
“I think the greatest win so far is that we have been able to do this work for so long—we are the longest-working equity group in Dallas,” Amber says. “Almost ten years in, we have students that are grown and come back and lead as volunteers and help us– it’s so humbling– this is something I will never get over.”