Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship to Launch in Arkansas and Mississippi Delta Region

January 24, 2018

Now accepting applications for area youth ages 16 to 20

James White
The Aspen Institute
202.297.3990 |

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2018 – The Aspen Institute’s Youth and Engagement Programs is partnering with the Walton Family Foundation to launch a 15-month leadership development opportunity for young people in Coahoma County, MS and Phillips County, AR. With existing cohorts in St. Louis, MO and Essex County, NJ, the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship’s expansion to the region marks the program’s first venture to a rural site. The Fellowship is accepting applications for area youth ages 16 to 20 through February 4, 2018, and will conduct applicant interviews February 23 and 24, 2018.

The Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) is a new, place-based initiative of the Aspen Institute’s Youth and Engagement Programs that partners with local communities to develop the next generation of local, purpose-driven leaders. Selected Fellows convene for nine seminars over 15 months to build the skills necessary to engage effectively and lead change within their communities and beyond. New to the Fellowship in 2018, Fellows will be offered paid summer internship opportunities to develop social ventures that have direct relevance to issues facing their communities.

“We are excited to work alongside community stakeholders to position and empower Coahoma County, MS and Phillips County, AR youth to make an impact in their communities,” says AYLF program director, Zakiya Reid.

AYLF’s mission is to encourage young people to make long-term investments in their communities and to provide the support necessary for them to drive positive, significant, and sustainable community impact. In building a local cohort of young leaders, emphasis will be placed on diversity with respect to race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and learning differences throughout the selection process. Selection is based on leadership potential – not solely the best grades or school attendance but signs of strong leadership qualities, behaviors, and traits.

Committed to creating opportunities for individuals and communities to live better in today’s world, the Walton Family supported AYLF’s entry into the region with palpable excitement for what the opportunity could mean for area youth.

The partnership is part of the Walton Family Foundation’s efforts to improve the quality of life for and engage youth in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta region.

“The Delta faces unique challenges, but we know there is incredible opportunity and potential in the region,” said Karen Minkel, Home Region Program director at the Walton Family Foundation. “This program will nurture the next generation of local leaders who will champion efforts to improve their communities.”

Open to area youth ages 16 to 20 regardless of education or employment status, AYLF will look to harness leadership potential through programming that includes intensive values-based dialogue, community-focused impact projects, and engagement with community leaders and stakeholders.

Applicants should have some or all the following background knowledge and/or experiences:

  • A strong understanding of current community culture.
  • Observed and questioned the critical issues that the community faces.
  • Demonstrated the ability to overcome social or personal obstacles.
  • Experience working successfully as part of a team.
  • Recognized the steps required to set and achieve long-term goals.
  • Exhibited a drive to exceed expectations.

After engaging with and learning from stakeholders in the region, it was clear to both the Aspen Institute and Walton Family Foundation that the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta region was a perfect fit for AYLF.

“Over the years, we’ve observed young people in rural communities being excluded from opportunities like this one, because most programs focus their efforts in city centers or major metropolitan hubs,” said Youth and Engagement Programs division director, Tre Maxie. “Offering opportunities to and meeting the needs of young people in rural communities was a priority when we launched the Fellowship just over one year ago, so it’s very exciting to expand into this region and work with the next generation of cross-sector leaders in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta region.”

Upon successful completion of the Fellowship, selected Fellows will become part of the Institute’s Youth and Engagement Programs alumni network, where they will have opportunities to engage with the organization in a number of capacities, including as participants in the Aspen Institute’s annual national youth convening.

The Aspen Institute’s Youth and Engagement Programs has organized a community advisory group that includes the Helena-West Helena School District, Rosedale Freedom Project, Sunflower Freedom Project, Griot Arts Program, Phillips Community College, and KIPP-Delta to help ensure the success of the Fellowship and selected Fellows. The advisory board will meet quarterly, offering support services and feedback to help shape the experience.

The Fellowship is accepting applications through February 4, 2018, and will conduct applicant interviews February 23 and 24, 2018. Contact for additional information.

Youth & Engagement Programs is a new strategic focus for the Aspen Institute to incubate and grow programs that work directly with young people ages 14 to 24 in urban and rural communities nationwide. The division is developing entrepreneurial approaches to engage youth in the key challenges of the day through programming that is effective, scalable, and capable of broadening the reach of the Institute beyond the constituencies it currently serves. The division is building on established Institute programs and serves as an incubator for new ideas to develop young leaders and change-makers. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. The Institute is based in Washington, DC and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

For three decades, the Walton Family Foundation has continued the philanthropic vision begun by Sam and Helen Walton. Their legacy is more important than ever as the foundation accelerates efforts to improve K-12 education for all students in America, to protect rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and to give back to the region that first gave Sam and Helen Walton opportunity. In 2016, the Walton Family Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $454 million. Learn more at, and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

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