Good youth development practice can emerge in unusual places. For thirteen-year-old entrepreneur Jaequan Faulkner, good youth development came in the form of a street vendor permit. The teenager opened a hot dog business in his Minneapolis neighborhood on Penn Avenue North, meeting with early success and a booming business. Then young Jaequan ran into an obstacle that nearly upended his entrepreneurial pursuit – he lacked the proper permit to run a freestanding food stand.
Jaequan had an idea and some initiative – what he lacked was permission. In what might have been a perfunctory administrative function, ending in a citation, the city of Minneapolis instead took a youth development approach. Instead of shutting him down, multiple agencies – the Minneapolis Health Department, the local Promise Zone, and the Northside Economic Opportunity Network – tag-teamed to get Jaequan back in business.
The response, coordination, and follow-up to Jaequan’s initiative was, in essence, good developmental practice. In order to help, adults did the following:
Support initiative. The city, teaming up with community partners in touch with the neighborhood and Jaequan’s intentions, saw a spark and figured out a way to support it. They provided structure and a process, ensuring Jaequan could continue in his endeavor and have a positive entrepreneurial experience.
Address barriers. In this case, 87 dollars and basic food safety equipment made all the difference. Waiving the usual permit fee, the Health Department helped the teen bring the hot dog stand up to code, and provided a tent for overhead protection, a food thermometer, and a hand washing station.
Provide adult mentors and champions. Adults sustained their interest in Jaequan, providing mentorship by sharing their knowledge. A dedicated uncle helped Jaequan get started and the city helped him learn about the business side of things, like finance, marketing, and pricing. The local police organization, Minneapolis Bike Cops for Kids, promoted Jaequan’s business on their social media page – support that helped to drive business to the teen’s stand.
Make space for young people. In an era where kids in public spaces can be, at best, questioned, and, far too often, contested and managed in a heavy-handed way, this community effort swung the developmental pendulum decidedly in the right direction.
In a banner year for high profile disputes over who is and isn’t permitted to hold space in public places, this story could have quickly turned sour. But fortunately, Minneapolis can be heralded for the developmental win, with a positive approach to supporting youth as the guiding principle at every step in the process. For sure, it’s a feel-good story, but more importantly, it provides a model and a reminder of the power of a developmental approach – the kind of approach that can and should be offered to every young person, in schools, in community-based programs, and on the corner of Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis.
Youth development need not be expensive or complex; it doesn’t even need to be a “program” – but it does need to be our consistent and first response in as many settings and circumstances as possible. Just stop by a youth-run hot dog stand on Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis – you’ll find the proof point you need that what we do every day as youth developmental specialists is exactly what young people need in the dog days of summer, and in every season of the year.
For breakfast, though tempted to grab a hot dog after writing this blog, I opted for cereal with pecans and blueberries, and orange juice.
Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom is an independent consultant in youth development policy and a Senior Fellow at the Forum for Youth Investment in Washington, DC.