One year ago, Taji and Britt, two Portland high school students entering their senior year, sat down to complete a custom curriculum inspired by the community around them; a curriculum dedicated to training the Portland Police Force to interact with youth in more effective and impactful ways.
After receiving United Way’s Catalyst Grant last year, the small nonprofit Youth Educating Police (YEP) had the opportunity to further their mission. In addition to continuing the annual Police Peace PDX forum, an open-panel discussion between community members, police officers and local youth, the pair facilitated focus groups with youth to better develop a dynamic curriculum that could eventually be used to train officers. Now, as a second time recipient of the grant, YEP has the chance to present this resource and build their voice within the community.
“This past year, with the support of our second United Way Catalyst Grant, we’ve been able to generate our first real action and progress,” explains both Taji and Britt. What does that progress look like? In the last year, YEP worked closely with its Youth Education Initiative, emphasizing the dual purpose behind the nonprofit: youth advocacy, activism and entrepreneurship as well as an open dialogue and relationship with police. Additionally, YEP held its fourth annual Police Peace PDX forum attended by Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw where the highly detailed and finalized curriculum was presented and reviewed by the community and chief herself.
The relationship YEP formed with Police Chief Outlaw propelled the organization further than they could have imagined, pushing the team to heavily workshop their training guide under the guidance and encouragement of a major player within their work. “Often people fail to take action because they feel hopeless. We wanted Chief Outlaw’s presence to demonstrate that what we’re doing is making real progress, and that it’s a movement worthy of the time and collaboration of other youth.”
YEP’s goal is multi-faceted in hoping to solidify a working relationship with the Portland Police Force along with strengthening the group’s relationship with members of the community. Britt and Taji have noticed the demographic of their audience consisting of peers and allies while being dominated by older white attendees, which despite valuing their allyship, strays from their target audience: youth and youth of color. The funding from United Way allowed the pair to streamline their goal, finalizing their last forum with over 60 youth from 12+ schools, making up a record setting attendance of over 80 attendees.
By developing a forum that spoke to leaders within the community, active police officers, Police Chief Outlaw and, most importantly, youth directly impacted by the mission behind YEP, the discussion was the most action-oriented event they’ve held. With the addition of finalizing the Youth Instructing Police (YIP) curriculum, the organization is now discussing how to best implement real change.
“The YIP curriculum has always been our proudest creation." Through countless research and conversations, YEP has come to realize that the sort of permanent and holistic change they're trying to achieve in Portland has to begin with training officers. Britt and Taji have made constant efforts to form an objective core-curriculum that takes into account nationwide and regional statistics, a consultation with a family psychologist, and represents the voices of local youth, all while pushing for positivity as opposed to scrutiny. “We realize not all officers hold prejudices towards youth, but we know that by forcing officers to listen to a youth-specific curriculum, we’re going to be able to enhance their willingness to listen to and learn from youth in other capacities.”
These major achievements, however, do not come without challenges. As a nonprofit fully run by youth, the group needed to build a team while sourcing organizational and financial knowledge the founders themselves are still learning. Fortunately, United Way has played a role in the team overcoming these obstacles and the passion behind their work continues to propel them forward.
“We are not going to wait around for someone else to give us the tools to do this work, we know our problems and we want to be a beacon for the solutions. YEP operates in a very important dynamic; as we venture into a sphere not meant for our voices we continue to change the norm of what community-government relations look and feel like along with chipping away at a larger institution,” says Taji.
And with solutions in mind, YEP is continuing to play an active role in how our community’s young members interact with the police force, beginning with placing the YIP curriculum into the 2020 and 2021 in-service training blocks within the Portland Police Force, a huge success, to say the least.
Read more about how YEP began and the Catalyst Grant here.