By Jamie Keith, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow
(This pairing of youth and adult profiles is by a youth/adult partnership, now in its second year. Jamie serves as a Promise Fellow at the Alliance, and is an adult partner to Essence, whom she met last year in her work as a Promise Fellow at Coon Rapids High School. Both are serving in their second year on the Minnesota Youth Council.)
Essence Blakemore, a freshman at Coon Rapids High School, is serving in her second year on the Minnesota Youth Council. Originally from Chicago, Essence has spent most of her life living in St. Paul. She feels that participating in the council has been a transformative experience.
“I feel like the youth council has changed me as a person,” she says. “It opens doors for you that you wouldn’t normally have open for you, and it gives you a chance to do things that you wouldn’t do as a regular kid.”
Essence serves as one of 36 youth on the MYC, each of whom is paired with an adult partner. She represents the state at-large along with members who represent each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts. The council is organized into four different committees focusing on philanthropy, policy, education, and event planning. Essence serves on the education committee, where she works with other youth and Minnesota Department of Education staff to address issues like the achievement and discipline gaps.
“Older people make decisions for the youth without the youth,” she says. “Especially in education — there are a lot of programs set up for the youth, but the achievement gap is still where it is, so it’s not working. And the youth have input because they know how to help themselves learn.”
Essence values the open communication and sense of support she feels as a member of the MYC.
“We are very diverse; there’s not just one specific group and we all have different talents and points of view,” she says. “The age range varies, but we’re all still supportive, not ‘because you’re a freshman or a senior your points aren’t equal to mine,’ or ‘because I’m 60 and you’re 18 your points aren’t valid.’ I love that.”
Keith, Jamie. “Essence Blakemore Serves Second Year as Minnesota Youth Council Member.” Promise Press 17.1 (Winter 2014): 4. Print.