The EYEJ Youth Council first convened in 2017. That year, 19 Cleveland youths ages 15 to 25 were interviewed for and accepted into the program. Then, as now, the group’s purpose was to give young people a place to assemble and brainstorm solutions to the injustices, challenges, and other obstructions they and their communities face every day and take action. Through collaboration with A Partnership for A Safer Cleveland and with support from the Larry Doby Youth Fund through the Cleveland Indians, EYEJ Youth Council members are trained in leadership, public speaking, media, organizing, research, collaboration and partnerships, teamwork, policy, research, and programming creation and fundraising. Their Cleveland-specific focus areas were toxic stress, police-youth relationships, and independent living skills (youth independence). In April 2018, the Council prepared and presented data, research, recommendations, and storytelling to civic, sports, and business leaders, including Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Police members. In a petition for $140,000, they made proactive suggestions to improve the lives of youth in Cleveland and set themselves and others up for long-term success. Senator Sherrod Brown invited the Youth Council for a visit to Washington DC in 2018. The Council met and engaged with multiple State of Ohio government officials and the Cleveland Browns, and multiple Browns players for a private movie screening party to celebrate the youth council’s work.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth council decided to shift its focus to closing the Digital Divide. With Cleveland being the worst connected city in the United States and over 40% of City of Cleveland youth not having access to broadband internet, the youth council felt this was a cause the community could get behind to help empower our youth. The youth raised over $20,000 for the #Empower giving campaign to support more detailed and accurate research on Cleveland’s broadband accessibility and fund a stipend program for students involved in the project. In addition, the EYEJ Youth Council has provided testimony and recommendations to policymakers and legislators, held phone zaps, online protests, letter-writing campaigns, and story-telling events, and collaborated with organizations such as McKinsey, PwC, Hyland Software, and more. The group also has presented its recommendations to the public through local media and created content highlighting its efforts.
Of primary concern to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 is the “Digital Divide,” the startling lack of access many families – predominantly African-American – have to reliable, high-speed internet. Even as the school year proceeds in virtual space, EYEJ has found that in some Cleveland neighborhoods, as many as 50 percent of households do not have access to broadband internet, students need to attend classes and complete schoolwork.