The Value Of Youth Engagement In Memphis

At BRIDGES we recognize that complex challenges we face as a community like poverty, racial and economic disparity, domestic violence, and low levels of civic engagement cannot not be solved by adults alone. Youth must be valued as key partners in the collective work of creating long-term and systemic improvement in our city.

When we ask students what makes our program work, Bridge Builders say they feel valued and important when they walk into the Jim Boyd BRIDGES Center.

When we ask our partners what makes our program work, they say Bridge Builders are highly engaged, well-informed and motivated.

Imagine if these sentiments applied across our entire community.

Memphis is often noted for the most tragic and divisive episodes of its history, or its present status as the city with the highest youth population in Tennessee and highest childhood poverty rate in the nation. It’s a city where, 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy was cut short, we’re still asking, “Where do we go from here?”

At BRIDGES, we believe today’s youth—a generation of leaders committed to reconciliation, restoration, and unity—have the answers.

When adults intentionally seek young people’s perspectives in efforts to shape the city’s future, we create a more inclusive community. Youth-adult equity in decision-making spaces also ensures the decisions we make that directly affect the lives of youth are better informed and thus more effective.

Our highest aspiration is to bring BRIDGES’ legacy, infrastructure and youth participation to greater scale and impact to help our city reach its potential. Our program model is designed to permeate the entire community (through CONNECT); build future leaders who can work together across cultural, racial, religious and economic divides (COLLABORATE); and to provide deep and long-term systemic change (CHANGE and Incarcerated Youth Speaking out For Change).

Transforming Memphis requires that we work across the community and that we are methodical in our approach, thoughtful about the lives of all citizens, and inspirational in challenging youth to tackle and solve problems. In doing so, BRIDGES will change young people’s lives, shift the ways adults think, improve policy, and alter the status quo of unproductive systems.

Together, we will create a more just, equitable, and hopeful future for the city we love.