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With an eye towards supporting systemic change, Mass Cultural Council’s Creative Youth Development (CYD) team has recently hosted two pilot initiatives inviting recent CYD program alumni to co-lead and participate in grantmaking practices, affording greater inclusion of youth voice. Over 80% of the young people in CYD programs in the state are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). However, these demographics are underrepresented in leadership, staff, and teaching roles across the Commonwealth’s cultural sector.
With this in mind, in February 2021 (FY21) we formed a Creative Youth Development BIPOC Alumni Council with nine alumni to create a meaningful space for youth voice on our CYD team, in our Agency, and in the field. The overall goal of the Alumni Council was to partner with alums to create safe and brave spaces to develop goals, share stories, creativity, and strategies for greater impact in CYD programs, philanthropy, and communities.
In the Alumni Council’s second pilot phase (FY22), three alumni, ages 18 to 24, were chosen from current YouthReach grantees for a nine-month pilot, fulfilling roles in research, communication, and leadership to provide resources, advocacy, and advice for the field and for the Agency.
As the Alumni Council Chair in FY21 and the Alumni Ambassador in FY22, Rajaiah Jones led the CYD BIPOC Alumni Council through both of its distinct, compelling pilot phases. Her role has bridged the communication between CYD organizations and the Alumni Council.
In its first pilot phase, the Alumni Council designed focus groups for CYD youth (in addition to other impressive feats, including five workshops for the CYD field and a zine documenting their findings on the values of CYD). One of the Alumni Council’s proudest accomplishments was working directly with youth. The youth emphasized the value of mentorship and leadership in their organizations who could see, hear, and understand their experiences as . Rajaiah saw how organizations who hired their alumni to work within their program could better serve their youth. During its second pilot phase, she chose to delve deeper into this relationship between representation, alumni support, and entry-level creative employment.
In phase 2 of the Alumni Council, Rajaiah met with seven CYD organizations and three state arts agencies. These organizations shared their strategies for supporting alumni beyond graduation. They built formal and informal pathways for alumni to return as teaching artists, administrators, board members, and leaders in their organizations. State arts initiatives also invited youth into their funding and grantmaking spaces as panelists and thought partners. Rajaiah shared her research and facilitated a panel of six CYD organizations in a national CYD convening this past April. Organizations shared their strategies with the field and with each other.
The work of Rajaiah and the Alumni Council shows the creativity and innovation they injected into our work as grantmakers. As a teaching artist and filmmaker, Rajaiah’s final project was Representation: Seen & Heard, a film reflecting on her research and the personal experiences of her fellow CYD BIPOC Alumni Council members, Bendu David and Wize Angelique. Inspired by the talk show, Red Table Talk, Rajaiah leads an honest discussion about the importance of mentors and teachers who understand the communities of their youth. Who better understands current youth than CYD alumni? The Alumni Council members talk about how their organizations stabilized their post-graduation experiences by writing job and college recommendations, offering work studies and internships, and passing forward job postings.
Rajaiah completes her time with the BIPOC Alumni Council this summer, though she leaves behind important advice for how state arts agencies, CYD programs, and the greater workforce can better endorse cultural youth employment in Massachusetts for the thousands of alumni looking to actualize their creative careers. To Rajaiah from the Mass Cultural Council: thank you so much for your passion and your leadership!
Watch Rajaiah’s film and hear her recommendations for
Special thanks to these organizations for their insights: