Skyway Youth Network Collaborative Encourages Kids to Advocate for Their Community

by M. Anthony Davis

The Skyway Youth Network Collaborative (SYNC) is working with youth in the West Hill/Skyway area to provide leadership and community advocacy opportunities. SYNC, a collaborative that empowers youth to use their voices, two years ago created an opportunity for youth to engage local politicians and provide them with recommended actions that will better serve youth and families in their community.

One of the first projects the young people worked on was creating and distributing surveys in the community to determine what topics to focus on. The two major areas of concern they found were affordable housing and real investment. These topics fueled SYNC’s efforts this year. The process set them on a path that started with conversations with community members who are currently working to address concerns regarding affordable housing and culminated with a group of youth giving a presentation during a King County Council meeting. 

Maggie Block, who serves as the coordinator of SYNC, helped connect youth with local activists, policy experts, designers and architects, community members who have been personally impacted, and community members who have created models of solutions for affordable housing. “We worked together with the young people,” Block says. “We brainstormed as many questions as we could think of. Then we invited all of the experts to come and join us for meetings, and the kids asked them their questions.” Unfortunately, due to COVID, they had to switch all but two of their meetings online. But, those meetings were extremely informative and encouraged the youth to push the work forward. 

Alicia Ing, a 2020 Renton High School graduate who will be a freshman at the University of Washington this fall, spoke to the King County Council about affordable housing and related legislation other young people wanted to see. “I talked about the fact that we wanted to focus on advocating for things that were proactive rather than reactive,” Ing said. “So making sure that the measures that we were putting out there were helping the issue and not addressing the issue after it’s already taken its course.”

In a presentation to the Washington Low Income Alliance, King County Council Members, candidates for state representative, and West Hill Community Association board members, SYNC youth outlined specific pieces of legislation they wanted to recommend. One of these pieces was revision to the current definition of affordable housing. “The term affordable housing can take on so many different meanings to different people,” Ing explains. “So what’s considered affordable for some people isn’t considered affordable for other people.”

In Skyway, which sits just south of Seattle and falls under the umbrella of unincorporated King County, the top 1% of earners in the county as a whole have skewed the scale that determines what “affordable” looks like. “What’s affordable to them, is not affordable for our community members,” Ing adds. “We recommended to change that definition, whether it’s creating a definition that’s specific to Skyway or making it 35 percent of the federal poverty line to make it a lot more realistic for the people that live in our community.”    

Mia Dabney, a junior at Cleveland High School, values the connections SYNC makes with local professionals. When diving into topics like gentrification, SYNC invites speakers who work in housing who can explain the specific ways gentrification impacts people living in a neighborhood as well as people moving into a neighborhood. “I’m really thankful that I got the opportunity to be able to understand the deep-rooted history and what gentrification is in general,” Dabney says. 

SYNC has been successful in encouraging youth to learn about and to advocate for important issues that impact their neighborhood. Thinking about her time with SYNC, Dabney says, “This was an amazing opportunity to be a part of a youth group that actually allows youth to speak their mind. People want to come and talk to us, and we get to share our ideas, but also learn more. I think it’s an opportunity that not a lot of children get so I think that it was a once in a life experience.”

Members of the Skyway Youth Network Collaborative during Olympia Advocacy Day, with Washington State Representative Eric Pettigrew. (Photo: Maggie Block)

Even after all the work it has done, SYNC still has more programs and opportunities planned for the future. The youth have already started planting seeds in a push for a Skyway Community Center, and they plan to continue advocating until they can connect the right people to make It happen. The first step in the process was sitting in on a King County budget meeting where they learned how COVID-19-related budget restrictions currently make the idea of a new community center feel like a long shot. But, even as budgets have become tighter than ever, Dabney still has hope and tells me that everyone she has talked to from different community groups wants to see a community center built in Skyway. 

SYNC offers youth a unique opportunity to enter spaces with policy makers and have their voices heard. Reflecting on her time with SYNC, Ing, who is aging out of the program, tells the Emerald, “Affordable housing and gentrification are really big conversations that normally people under the age of 18 don’t really talk about. So being able to educate ourselves on things like that, and talk to people who want to share their experiences and want to help us learn has been really cool … Young people really do have a voice, and they have the ability to create change.” Thanks to the efforts of groups like SYNC, the powerful voices of the youth will continue to be heard in our community. 

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

Featured image by Girmay Zahilay.