On any given day, Baltimore City youth are participating in training sessions, discussing complex issues such as sexual health, wellness and physical activity with their peers, and brainstorming solutions as part of the Youth Leadership and Advocacy Network. The network, launched in 2015 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Adolescent Health, brings together representatives, most of them youth, from more than 45 youth-serving organizations across Baltimore. They meet regularly to share updates on their activities and connect with each other.

The network aims to channel the existing energy and activism of youth leaders, empowering them to influence decision-making that directly impacts their wellbeing. Baltimore has a rich history of youth engagement, and the network takes it a step further, members say, by giving youth a voice at some of the most influential institutions in the city.

“(The network) allows young people to learn early to not fall victim to working in silos, but to work collaboratively,” said Rashad Stanton, network co-chair and a youth engagement specialist for Baltimore City Public Schools. “It’s a shared space of young people learning what other young people are doing.”

In a city facing myriad public health issues, Baltimore youth, together with supporting organizations and initiatives like the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and others separate from the network, are tackling challenges head on. So far, they have:

To further institutionalize youth engagement in the city, the network has helped service providers and organizations such as the Baltimore City Police Department, the Baltimore City Health Department and Baltimore City Schools create their own youth advisory boards. Baltimore has a youth representative in every one of its 14 city council districts that work together through the Baltimore City Youth Commission. And thanks to a recently passed bill that YLAN youth presented to the City Council, youth now have a seat on the boards of every registered community association in the city. 

The goal is for youth to give input into every decision made about them and issues of concern to them, said Katrina L. Brooks, network co-chair and the Center for Adolescent Health’s community relations director.  

“We make sure our youth have a seat at the decision-making table,” Brooks said. “And we train them and give them the leadership skills to be instrumental in their positions.”