Youth Organizing Sparks the Civic Engagement of Young People, Develops Critical Consciousness and Skills, and prepares them for a Life of Leadership

Research shows that through its distinct approach, youth organizing produces powerful civic engagement and leadership development outcomes in youth of color:


Alongside civic skills such as
Youth organizers develop concrete leadership and problem-solving skills, along with powerful agency for social change, igniting vigorous participation and leadership in civic life, And they are innovating new civic practices by using evidence-based policy arguments and raising public awareness of their issues through a variety of artistic and digital and social media.


Alongside civic skills such as
interpersonal communication, public speaking and event coordination and group facilitation, youth organizing goes further than many other program by developing distinct critical consciousness in low-income young people of color by focusing on how societal forces impact their own community, and analyzing issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability and economic inequality.


The civic engagement ignited in young people through organizing stays with them into adulthood: no matter what opportunities they pursue, youth organizers remain active in civic life. Research found that youth organizing alumni stayed active civic participants in a variety of ways from voting to volunteering to taking leadership in political organizations and community organizing.

Source: Terriquez, V. (2017). Building Healthy Communities through Youth Leadership.

Source: Rogers, J. & Terriquez, V. (2013). Learning to Lead: The Impact of Youth Organizing and the Educational and Civic Trajectories of Low-Income Youth.

As young people engage in campaigns, organizing staff engage them in a distinct cycle of learning that involves analysis, action and reflection. These categories should be considered as overlapping and cyclical—analysis leads to action, action to analysis, and reflection to further analysis—and the outcomes they support are cumulative and overlapping as well. ANALYSIS usually involves exploring the origins and systemic causes of social and political problems, translating those problem into issues, and identifying parties responsible for bringing about desired changes . Analysis builds skills such as researching, planning, critical thinking, strategy development, debate, consensus building, and discussion—all of which are traditional youth development assets. ACTION involves a collective, public activity that confronts decision-makers and pressures them to make a desired change. Action includes a range of activities: speaking at a city council meeting, informational picketing, writing letters to officials, circulating petitions, displaying banners, and holding public demonstrations. REFLECTION is an important component of youth organizing because it fosters personal, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Participants learn to evaluate their strategies, monitor their activities and even gauge their own commitment to changing the problem. Reflection might include journaling, debriefing with peers about an issue or experience, or discussing the effectiveness of a particular event.

“If it weren’t for my involvement, I probably wouldn’t have thought about politics or social justice and changing my community in that particular way.”

Meagan, a San Francisco youth organizer

Youth Organizing and the Leadership Pipeline

School-based civic engagement and political education is lacking in U.S public schools, especially those in low-income communities and most civic engagement approaches focus on college-age young adults. But youth organizing serves as a leadership pipeline that can start as early as middle and high school and focuses on low-income young people and young people of color.

In the pipeline, young people gain deep exposure to the political process, more so than through traditional civics courses in school or after-school civics program, and are given real opportunities for leadership, from researching community problems to testifying before policymakers.

This combination of deep political education and development with real opportunities for leadership and action produce the powerful outcomes shown above.

Adapted from FCYO’s Occasional Papers Series (OPS) installment #10: Building a Pipeline for Justice: Understanding Youth Organizing and the Leadership Pipeline, by Prof. Shawn Ginwright