(GIF via YouTube)
For Nate Nichols, engaging youth on his terms involves opening up about his own personal experiences while mixing in some hip hop references for impact.
Just check out this speech that Nichols, the cofounder and CEO of creative digital marketing agency The Palette Group, gave last year to foster and homeless youth at Valley Youth House.
As someone who has experience being in the foster care system, has immigrant parents and grew up with a single parent, Nichols has made these kinds of speeches his creative outlet during which he’s “embracing my inner rapper,” he said in an email.
Nichols even refers to these public talks as his “singles,” and we can expect more of the same for his second single: “[Sixty] percent of my second single (talk for this year) is about Bad and Boujee. I say, ‘Rain Drop’ and the kids say, ‘Drop Top.’ #savagesauce.”
But Nichols wants these kinds of youth engagement efforts to include more people from the local community. It’s why he’s starting an event series called Odds Against Odds to bring together likeminded “savages” with similar goals in one space to have non-traditional discussions about this topic.
The series is kicking off this coming Monday at coworking space The Yard, which just opened its first Philly location last week.
The kickoff event, as its page says, is “not quite a panel and not quite a fireside chat … somewhere in-between,” and Nichols, as the moderator, is set to ask some real questions — e.g., “How do you suppose we teach youth to break outside of the rudimentary school system and strive for upward societal strides?” — to each of these local education leaders:
- Miles Wilson, CEO of Education Works
- April Kae, an education blogger who created independent music group and social justice movement website Imanigold
- Chris Rogers, founder of edtech startup JustMaybeCo
- Michael O’Bryan, senior manager of youth programs at the Village of Arts and Humanities (who was just named one of four Philly recipients of the Emerging City Champions fellowship to create a project that enhances “public spaces, mobility or civic engagement”)
- Phil Brooks, program manager at STEMcityPHL, who helps bring STEM professionals into elementary schools for “high-impact mentoring”
The ultimate goal for Nichols? He hopes to inspire and expose future opportunities to more than 10,000 local youth by the end of the year. Last year, he said he was able to reach out to more than 1,000 youth across the city with his involvement in the U.S. Department of Education’s GEAR UP initiative, which included local summer programs for inner-city youth where he spoke and presented this short self-produced documentary on his background:
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It was during those times last year where Nichols got the inspiration for this upcoming series, from the reactions he received, some in the form of handwritten letters not only thanking him but connecting with him and his experiences.
“When I read the letters I saw self-expression going beyond hearing about my professional life, but they were being empathetic to my challenges, and they genuinely cared for me,” he said. “Here I am, having a group of middle schoolers empathizing for me.”
Those personal connections — “a gateway, digital or physical, to youth,” Nichols said — are key to the workforce development opportunities that leaders and role models like himself could provide.
“The kids on the block of my studio knock on my door from time to time to have a quick chat,” he said. “They wanna see what we’re up to and they sometimes need a small favor like a photoshoot for their school basketball team.
“[If] they have ideas, embrace and empower them. Help them synthesize their thoughts and ideas to get to the core of their expression and very simply work with them for one hour, once a week. Additionally, a TON of the youth I engage at schools follow me on Instagram and we continue our relationship digitally, I get to sustain a relationship and we get to check in from time to time.”