By Tavi Baker
Citywide Director of Youth Leadership Programs
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
Over the years, I’ve met countless San Francisco youth who are passionate about changing the world. Many of our youth members come from marginalized communities of color. Too often, their voices are ignored and overlooked. Our kids need support to find their voices and platforms to share their perspectives. At Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, they get that and so much more!
“As a teen, nobody really asks our opinion,” one of the teens I work with admitted. At a recent workshop, another shared, “I loved talking about race and civil issues, especially as a teen, because nobody really asks our opinion as kids. We are the future and to hear us out was amazing.”
I believe teens should be given a platform to share their unique perspective so they can shape the world around them. To do this, they need an extra investment from caring adults, like Boys & Girls Clubs staff. As Citywide Director of Youth Leadership Programs, I work together with staff at all levels of the organization, to create a welcoming environment where thoughts and opinions can be shared in a safe way. One critical goal for me is to help youth understand their innate strengths and the value and importance of their perspective.
“I am very proud of the work that we are doing with youth leadership programs,” says Rob Connolly, President of BGCSF. “The work is complex, taking skill, patience, and understanding. For adults it’s about creating safe spaces for kids to test their ideas and hone their perspective … and it’s about listening a lot more than speaking. I’ve seen our youth leadership programs take shy kids or loosely connected kids and pull them into the Club. And, I’ve seen highly engaged and very active Club kids shine in new ways.”
Four years ago, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco created my position to support teens in a new way. My position builds on the many great teen programs we have in place, including several strong leadership programs. I work in close partnership with other departments, finding opportunities to incorporate supportive and safe spaces for youth voices and leadership throughout our Clubs.
One event – a Teen Town Hall that our President’s Advisory Council (PAC) held with State Senator Scott Wiener and State Assemblymember David Chiu – provides a strong example of what our youth leadership programs make possible. This was such an impactful event because our Club members were an active part of the process from start to finish. The teens chose the cause they wanted to champion based on what they were already passionate about: youth incarceration. From there, each teen selected their own role in planning the town hall and provided input every step of the way.
Together, Club staff and members did intensive learning on youth incarceration and the corresponding impact of systemic racism. In addition to educational videos and firsthand accounts by members of PAC, we learned about organizations working to end youth incarceration, including Youth Organize! California and the San Francisco Youth Commission. As our members learned from other teens and each other's stories, they felt empowered to lead the fight against youth incarceration.
Leadership opportunities at the Club are equipping our youth with the tools and experience to amplify their voices beyond the Club too. Our staff provided our teens with access to research and key voices working to end youth incarceration, empowering them to take the helm on this crucial work. This was true for Alexis, who led a Black Lives Matter protest in the summer before joining our Teen Town Hall in December.
One member put it this way: “It's having a voice in a community where you sometimes think you're all alone.
At Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, we value providing young people with opportunities to lead, make decisions, and have agency about issues that matter to them. That’s why we provide multiple youth leadership programs starting as early as elementary school, so our youth have different avenues to pursue their interests and grow in their leadership skills.
Each year a select group of teens are involved in our Citywide Youth of the Year program. Through this four-month-long leadership program, teens (10 teens this year) have the chance to practice public speaking, essay writing, and team-building with the support of two mentors each. While the pandemic altered the program, the core activities remained the same and the impact was just as impressive. I am proud to have led this effort, ensuring that our youth can continue to grow and flourish into confident and inspiring leaders, despite these unprecedented times.
From working with the President’s Advisory Council, Youth of the Year, and other youth leadership programs, I’ve been so grateful for the opportunity to listen, encourage, and support our youth as they work to shape and bring about a brighter future. For me and many of my colleagues, there’s no greater joy than seeing our youth find their voices and create the changes they want to see to make the world a better place for all.
Tavi Baker has been with Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco for more than 13 years. Prior to stepping into her current role as Citywide Director of Youth Leadership Programs in 2017, Tavi served as Citywide Director of Health & Fitness for nine years. Tavi earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Berkeley and her master’s degree in public health from UCLA.