2023 All-America City – Mesa, AZ

People from different races, places of origin, languages, faiths, and identities interweave to give Mesa its vibrancy. However, in a time of divisive rhetoric and misinformation, it was vital to keep focused on the strength of Mesa’s diversity, which is why the city passed a Non-Discrimination Ordinance, memorializing its commitment to equality, diversity, and fair access to opportunities. Through the unifying process, Mesa empowered marginalized groups, increased civic participation, worked across the aisle, and brought more voices to the table. The alliances and partnerships that helped pass the ordinance established a spirit of trust and innovation needed for building a thriving community.    

Hactivate Mesa 

Hactivate Mesa was created to celebrate youth ideas and encourage collaboration with professionals to increase civic engagement and elicit the exploration of careers in civil service. The collaborative event brings students together to study and analyze data on pertinent topics or problems in their community to help promote data science, STEM, critical thinking, problem solving, presentation skills, community pride, and civic engagement.   

Events began in 2019 as a partnership between the city, Mesa Public Schools, and the business community. Initially designed as an annual 2-day event for high school students, Hacktivate Mesa now includes activities throughout the year for students in 8th grade to master’s candidates at Arizona’s three public universities.   

During Hacktivate Mesa, students have access to real city data. Students are tasked with identifying patterns and trends about a community issue to make recommendations for addressing it. To promote inclusiveness and understanding of equity, the projects always include data on community demographics and areas of disparate impact. The youth benefit from leadership development, problem solving, better understanding of the community around them, increased job readiness and potential employment opportunities.   

The city has leveraged youth insights into actual programs. The 2022 Hacktivate presentations informed initiatives that helped shape ongoing efforts such as centralized homeless resources/services, crisis intervention training for School Resource Officers to improve mental health and trauma systems for youth, a food waste into gas program, and more.   

Project Lit 

Arizona has consistently ranks among the bottom five states for the quality of its public-school education. Studies suggest that incorporating the arts results in a more complete and well-rounded educational experience. When implemented, the arts foster linguistic, numeric, and aesthetic literacy, alongside discipline, creativity, and enhanced self-esteem; however, 50% of schools in Arizona have no budget for arts education.   

Founded in 2015, The City of Mesa’s Project Lit is an arts learning program that uses poetry, hip hop, and drama to promote literacy and activate social and emotional development with young and emerging adults. Project Lit primarily serves students who attend Title 1 schools in grades 7-12, through 16-to-24-week school residencies with professional teaching artist mentors. In each residency, youth engage with the tools of creativity to find, develop, and publicly present their unique voice, while also learning to foster empathy and compassion as a means of critical thinking. In addition, upon completion of their residencies, students are offered an opportunity to publicly share their work in a community performance space and submit their poems to be published in an annual student anthology.  

Through Project Lit, students are given the space for exploration, freedom, and discovery through a unified framework that centers on collaboration between the Teaching Artist Mentors, classroom teachers, peer mentors and students. This framework provides a common set of learning objectives, integrating literacy and social and emotional development with the respective artforms and classroom needs.   

Since the program inception, Project Lit has expanded to engage:  

  • 23 host schools or community-based sites 
  • 21,700 students participating in RUSH Day 
  • Up to 400 students participating in Project Lit program activities annually.

Project Lit aims to create lifelong learners who approach the world through a critical but compassionate lens.  

SPARC Youth Programs 

In response to the challenges facing police departments across the nation, Mesa is taking a holistic approach to community safety by connecting with and supporting youth and families to promote positive experiences with law enforcement.  

Administered through the Mesa’s Police Department (MPD)’s Community Relations & Recruitment Division, SPARC (Sports, Programs & Activities Reuniting Community) promotes positive experiences with law enforcement through sports and simulation activities. SPARC includes:  

  • Sports 
    • Running club 
    • Soccer and basketball clinics 
  • Programs & Activities 
    • Teen Community Engagement Academy (CEA): A one-day experience that allows participants to learn about police operations and obtain a personal view of what a day in the life of a police officer is like.  
    • Youth Leadership Academy: A two-week summer program that builds character, leadership development, and appreciation for community services and good citizenship.  
    • ASPIRE Academy: Through a four-day leadership camp, high school aged girls get hands-on experience in firefighting and law enforcement operations and work side-by-side with women in these fields.  
  • Activities 
    • Teen Court: Gives youth a practical experience of the judicial system by allowing the offender, victim, and community to hear actual cases and determine an appropriate, constructive, and restorative solution.  
    • Youth Community Forum: Provides an avenue of communication between MPD and youth to address cultural and quality of life issues that transcend ethnic, cultural, religious and geographic barriers.  

 An average of 300 individual youth and their families are impacted by SPARC initiatives each school year. Initiatives like SPARC help to strengthen police-youth relations.  

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