Sacramento Youth Commission helps teens influence city policies

‘Nothing about us without us’



Kylie Huang, Mira Loma High School

“Nothing about us without us” is the slogan for the Sacramento Youth Commission (SYC), which provides a forum for young people to help shape public policies that affect them. 

The SYC is an advisory board for the City Council of Sacramento. Commissioners, appointed by their respective council members, come from throughout the city and represent their own districts. Three additional members are appointed by the mayor. 

Youth commissioners range in age from 14 to 24 years of age and meet twice monthly. They are able to advocate for policies and programs they care about and believe are most important for the young people they represent. 

Adiyah Obolu, a senior at Inderkum High School, has served on the commission for one year as a mayoral appointee. 

“Issues that I believe are most prevalent for Sacramento youth are the school-to-prison pipeline, equitable education funding, mental wellness, and diverse teachers and curriculum,” she said. “Many of these issues work hand in hand to impact Sacramento youth.” 

Ainsley Fong is one of two commissioners representing District 7 of the City of Sacramento. A junior at Christian Brothers High School, she has served on the commission for about half a year. 

“There are a lot of issues impacting Sacramento youth, and different people think different issues are most important,” she said. “However, in my experience, Sacramento youth tend to think mental health, homelessness, equality and education are most important.” 

Since its codification in 2019 by the City Council, the SYC has provided recommendations on everything from staff presentations on the city’s climate action plan to the allocation of funding for youths. For example, the SYC’s recommendation on the allocation of funds from the Coronavirus Aide, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowed for the creation of several youth programs focused on youth development, mental health, education, workforce experience, and more. 

Commissioners have also initiated Facebook podcasts discussing mental health for youths, as well as taken action to put youth seats on other commissions. During a joint meeting with the City Council in June 2020, commissioners discussed youth priorities as well as potential funding opportunities to further support the young people of Sacramento. 

Most recently, the SYC provided a recommendation supporting the proposal to add a youth liaison seat to the City Council itself. This proposal later passed with a vote of 5-3. 

In the eyes of many young people, although the city has made significant progress on issues that affect them, there is still room to do much more. 

“The city has created outreach programs to assist people with some of these problems and has created more shelters,” Fong said. “However, more needs to be done and can always be done to help people. The city has more plans in place to help its unhoused population but is not doing enough as so many people are still living on the streets and struggling to make a living.”

Obolu agreed, saying that while the SYC’s work is a step in the right direction, several pertinent issues that affect a great majority of Sacramento youths continue to be ignored.

“I don’t think the city has been very successful at addressing these issues,” Obolu said. “Sacramento is the highest in the state for the suspension of Black male students, but proper legislation or funding has not been put forth to eradicate this issue. I believe the city can improve by having more youth voices on (the) City Council and being more transparent with the city about decisions that have and will be made – as well as recognizing that these issues are a problem, so then it is possible to change them.”

Stormee Burgan is a sophomore at West Campus High School and has served as a District 5 commissioner for the past few months. 

“(I care about) creating a safe space for kids facing racism and how to see the signs,” she said. “Last year at (C.K. McClatchy High School) and at West Campus there were racist events that took place and made students feel unsafe at the schools. So it’s an issue that still needs to be addressed. I’ve given my thoughts on the topics brought up based on my experience and what I have heard from my peers.”

Youth perspectives need to be a priority, Fong said, and there are many different ways young people can bring their voices to the table. 

“To uplift youth voices I have joined several clubs at school, including Environmental Club, Pride Club, and several community service clubs among others,” she said. “I also encourage my classmates to speak up and seek opportunities to learn more because knowledge helps people more effectively speak up. I have not been on the SYC for long, but I’ve communicated with Council member (Rick) Jennings and shared the SYC’s advice and opinions so that youth can be better represented.”

SYC members want to create change, Obolu said.  

“In SYC, I actively share my thoughts on various city issues, and I had the opportunity to work with local police on a gun buy-back initiative,” Obolu said. “I strive to uplift youth voices by creating safe spaces for young people in our city.”