For almost 20 years I have worked in organizations that were committed to engaging young people in finding their power to change, and for the last 10 I have actively researched and taught what it takes to do that. Here is what I’ve discovered:
- Wake up. Young people are not ignorant. When faced unfavorable realities in their lives, they can usually easily identify challenges and situations they need to change. Every young person has these realities to some extent, no matter their social circumstance. For instance, the student in upstate New York who is arrested by police for wearing their baseball cap in school may have been a upper middle class white young person who has all of their basic needs met; however, this violation of their right to dress according to their own will served only to diminish their personal power. Similarly, the low income youth of color in an extremely rural community who has food security issues and no regularly running water is well aware of these violations of their basic human rights. Adults need to wake up to the realities that these young people are in similar circumstances, and that collectively they both can instigate, perpetuate and sustain long term social change – given the opportunity.
- Go upstream. There is no such thing as “youth problems” – we only have community problems. Young people are not isolated factors that operate on their own devoid of impact from other generations or other social factors. Rather than simply seeing the fish dieing in the lake and focusing on picking up the trash along the edges, go upstream and find the sources of the problems, whether disconnection from nature, coal mine pollution, or political laziness are to blame. Instead of blaming youth for the problems they face, look upstream and identify the root causes.
- Get busy. Simply having a wake up call and looking at the problem isn’t enough – we have to take action, individually and collectively. By becoming active throughout our individual lives and in the lives of the young people around us we can expose purpose, belonging and engagement in the world around us. When we do this we become conduits of transformation, and people who have personally embraced our power to change.
- Follow through. Change isn’t embodied by New Year’s resolutions. It’s not the mantra we say we’re going to say to ourselves, or the policy we think we’re going to get passed through the board tonight. Instead, change is the action, reaction, and sustained transformation of the world in us and around us. We have to demonstrate to children, youth, and ourselves that we’re committed and engaged in our lives, in their lives, and in the communities we share. In following through we’re allowing social change to become a social expectation, and preparing our world to embrace the power to change.
Learn more at http://freechild.org