Training Dallas’s Youth to Make Change in their Communities

Author: Camille H. Anoll
Date Posted: August 30, 2019

“Youth inherit a world with a lot of policies that affect them. They don’t necessarily have the tools to make those changes. So what we want to do is equip students with tools to analyze their world and advocate for the change they want to see.” –Anthony Galvan


Since 2014, the Institute for Urban Policy Research (IUPR) at the University of Texas at Dallas has been teaching youth to leverage data to support advocacy and action on complex social justice issues. Through the Young Leaders, Strong City program, IUPR hosted interactive sessions that brought local experts and youth together to learn about different topics with a racial equity lens and the ways data can be used to support change-making efforts. Youth participants often came to the events many years in a row. Program alumni have returned to lead sessions on the issues they care about and share how they have implemented these new skills to change their communities. For example, one alumna, with her newly acquired skills and her personal passion, lobbied her school to host a racial justice summit on immigration. Another group of alumni created an exhibit with photo essays highlighting the micro-aggressions that occur regularly at their own school to inform students, staff, and faculty of their behavior's unintended impact.

IUPR has a new focus for its work with young people in 2019. After five successful years of delivering summits to more than 1,200 of Dallas’s youth, the Young Leaders, Strong Cities program has now morphed into a stand-alone organization, the Imagining Freedom Institute, run by the IUPR team that developed the program. The IUPR team is pivoting their work with youth under a new initiative, Dallas Urban Futures, focused on undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Through Dallas Urban Futures and the student organizing committee, IUPR hosted their first summit for college students in the style of the Young Leaders, Strong Cities program in May 2019. This summit was predominantly led and organized by a small group of undergraduate students and focused on racial justice through art, justice reform, and urban design. Many undergraduate students got to practice their skills during the summit, as well as in the development and promotion of the summit. Students contributed as volunteers, graphic design artists, and social media promoters. IUPR and the student organization committee will plan similar summits in the future and are exploring other ways they can bring racial equity and data training into both undergraduate and graduate classrooms. Through their work with students at the university, IUPR hopes to foster an interest in community change work, an understanding of the power of data, and the analytical and interpersonal skills needed to advocate for change.

Impact in Dallas’s Schools

Immigration: A student at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School participated in a racial justice youth summit and used her new knowledge and skills—along with her passion—to lobby her school to host a summit focused on immigration.
Microaggressions: After attending a racial justice youth summit, a group of students from Greenhill School created an exhibit of photoessays highlighting the microaggressions that occur regularly at their school in an effort to inform students, staff members, and faculty members of their behavior's unintended impact.


This story was written by Camille Anoll at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with youth at the Young Leaders, Strong City program. The Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas is the Dallas partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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