April 10, 2023

Responding to Race in Youth Career Development Practice

Categories: Connected Learning, Digital Learning, Educational Practice, Featured, Research, Youth Well-Being

They’re coming to us, without any work experience because of discrimination and lack of opportunities. Or with having had some work experience, but having struggled to successfully retain the job because of hostile employment settings. Or having experienced racism on the job and negotiating professional standards that are unwritten but expected.

– Maddie Deegan Davenport, New Door Ventures

This inaugural blog post is the first of a series of case studies based upon the work of the Equitable Futures Innovation Network. The network brings together scholars and practitioners to identify cutting-edge practices for promoting racial equity within youth career development programs. In this opening entry, Miguel N. Abad shares a case study on EFIN’s collaboration with New Door Ventures and their efforts to prioritize youth leadership and amplify youth voice within the organization’s employment and internship programs. 

The Equitable Futures Innovation Network (EFIN) is a project of the Connected Learning Lab at UC Irvine, focused on fostering career equity in asset-based and identity-affirming ways. This post is the first in a series of reflective case studies of partnerships between EFIN researchers and organizational leaders. 
New Door Ventures – Offering Career and Workforce Pathways For Transitional Aged Youth

Founded in 1981, NDV is a non-profit agency that provides on-going workforce development opportunities for young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. The New Door Ventures model primarily supports young people from low-income backgrounds to develop modern workforce competencies, career guidance, and internship placements. This employment program draws upon positive youth development principles by integrating mentorship and leadership opportunities.

NDV serves young people aged 16-24, often referred to as transitional aged youth or TAY. As a classification, TAY has emerged as a way for youth service providers to highlight the specific needs of youth who are moving into the adult world and job market. Sometimes, these youth are transitioning out of the foster care system and incarceration into independent adulthood. This demographic is often overlooked in policy and program interventions when compared to early childhood, school age populations.1 This may be due in part to the societal assumption of a steady K-12-to-college trajectory, which often does not reflect the realities, barriers, struggles, and lack of opportunities faced by transitional aged youth.2 


Individual Skill Development vs. Addressing Social Inequalities

Traditionally, the youth career development field has been characterized by programs that focus on cultivating professional skills valued by employers in the workplace. Critics of this traditional approach to poverty alleviation have argued that the emphasis on professional skill development inaccurately makes a social problem an individual problem. Rather than focusing on the systemic barriers that limit pathways for social mobility, policy makers and some poverty alleviation programs may rely upon stereotypically negative perceptions of BIPOC communities.  

As a whole, the youth career development field is often focused on refining approaches and curriculum for cultivating youth participants’ professional skills. The uncomfortable implication within the field is that young people from historically marginalized communities are at a deficit because they lack the knowledge, skills, and opportunities that more privileged young people are able to access. While there is much evidence that shows how social and economic barriers hinder opportunities for many BIPOC young people from poor and working class backgrounds, these communities are not defined solely by those disadvantages. Historically marginalized communities are also defined by their assets and their histories of resilience in the face of those social barriers.


Race-Grounded Responsiveness

Tsehayu Bantidagne, a Co-Director of East Bay Outreach and Partnerships, has worked in a myriad of youth serving organizations in Oakland and the greater East Bay region. “For a lot of the young people in our communities, it’s hard to be creative, it’s hard to think about, you know, your goals, your talents and dreams when you have to face a severe society,” he says.

Bantidagne notes the barriers that continue to limit pathways for social mobility for BIPOC young people in Oakland and the greater Bay Area. Young people who come through New Door Ventures’ programs have often had non-traditional educational journeys. Some may have had gaps in their K-12 education and may or may not have intentions to pursue college. Many often hold other responsibilities on their shoulders, like contributing to their family’s budget, and caretaking for children and elderly family members. 

Maddie Deegan Davenport, a career development program manager at NDV, similarly emphasizes how structural racism has disadvantaged not only their youth program participants, but also their families and communities: “[W]hat that looks like, especially when it comes to employment, is a lack of people in their life that also have been able to access and maintain employment or career-sustaining employment or opportunity for professional and economic mobility.”

Researchers have documented how racism negatively shapes the physical, social and career development prospects of BIPOC young people.3;4 For practitioners like Davenport, engaging in quality career development practice with BIPOC youth requires an understanding of how social barriers continue to limit opportunities and career aspirations of youth participants.

For Bantidagne, trusting relationships with employment program participants are the building blocks for successful outcomes. He highlights the importance of practitioners being aware of the racialized disrespect that youth participants have often experienced in schools, other programs, institutions, and past jobs: “And sometimes they might say some things that might make you cringe or that you might not agree with[.] We have to give them the space to grow. A lot of young people have been abandoned, judged or written off because of who they are and what neighborhood they’re from.” 


Critical Consciousness and Participatory Action Research

Both Davenport and Bantidagne have been advisors and champions for New Door Ventures’ Alumni Leadership Council (ALC), which brings together young people who have completed the agency’s employment program. They saw the need for more direct insight and consultation from youth participants than could be found in traditional surveys. 

Davenport, Bantidagne and ALC youth members have facilitated a space for the group to engage in deep conversations about local social justice issues that affect the employment and career prospects of BIPOC young people in the Bay Area. Researchers have highlighted how these kinds of opportunities can have positive influences on young peoples’ career expectations and aspirations.5


Image: Description of the ALC’s research project

For the past two years, the EFIN network has collaborated closely with the ALC on a participatory action research project to address struggles that employment program participants faced at their job sites or with community volunteers. The ALC members carried on a 6-month research project that examined the needs of their peers through focus groups and interviews. Their study concluded that youth participants in the employment program needed better processes for on-boarding in their specific jobs, as well as internship supervisors who were better equipped to support interns’ needs, including mentoring and mental health resources. 


Towards Systems Change

In order to address the issues that their peers experienced within the employment and internship program, the ALC is designing a series of multimedia training resources to be shared with business partners and volunteers focused on positive youth development principles, mental health and wellness. ALC members have made presentations on their project in New Door Ventures all-staff meetings and to the organization’s executive teams. In April 2023, the ALC will be presenting and sharing their work and reflections on their project at the 2023 National Youth Employment Coalition Annual Forum as part of its Youth Action Hour.

Photo: Generating workshop ideas for volunteers and business partners

Randi Lauderdale, an ALC member and an Oakland resident, completed the New Door Ventures employment program in 2020. As an ALC leader, she has been involved in the project from the beginning. “From our research we learned that for a lot of New Door interns if there were conflicts or if there were problems at their job sites, it sometimes wasn’t resolved in healthy ways because that rapport and that understanding and that level of respect and things were not there.” 

These experiences and challenges are common among BIPOC young people in Oakland seeking opportunities to gain work experience and pursue their career aspirations. “In the workforce, but also in society generally, Black and Brown people have assumptions made about them, especially young people. They’re not taken seriously. But here in Oakland so many of us want to work and want to have opportunities.” 

Ultimately, Randi and her ALC colleagues contend that youth participants should expect more from local employers who want to partner with youth career development programs, such as literacy in positive youth development principles and an understanding of the social and employment barriers that young people at NDV encounter on a daily basis.

“Our project is trying to get at that and show that Black and Brown people have a lot going on in their lives,” Lauderdale notes, “and trying to educate people about what it means to invest and build genuine relationships and opportunities for youth in the community.”


  1. Jackson, Brianna, Richard Booth, and Kimberley T. Jackson. 2022. “The Good, the Bad, and the Vision: Exploring the Mental Health Care Experiences of Transitional-Aged Youth Using the Photovoice Method.” Qualitative Health Research 32(12): 1915-1931.
  2. Abad, Miguel N.. 2020. “Are We Not What We Seem?”: Infrapolitical Maneuvers in the Era of College and Career Readiness. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 51(3): 322-340.
  3. Conkel-Ziebell, Julia L., George V. Gushue, and Sherri L. Turner. 2019. “Anticipation of Racism and Sexism: Factors Related to Setting Career Goals for Urban Youth of Color.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 66(5): 588.
  4. Shonkoff, Jack P., Natalie Slopen, and David R. Williams. 2021. Early Childhood Adversity, Toxic Stress, and the Impacts of Racism on the Foundations of Health. Annual Review of Public Health 42: 115-134.
  5. Rapa, Luke J., Matthew A. Diemer, and Josefina Bañales. 2018. Critical Action as a Pathway to Social Mobility Among Marginalized Youth. Developmental Psychology 54(1): 127.

Post by Miguel N. Abad


Miguel N. Abad is a San Francisco-based youth worker and an assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University.