There’s a wide world of youth engagement out here! For more than two decades I have been involved in activism led by and with youth, first in my local neighborhood, then across my city, then across the United States, and now around the world. I have been privileged to see, feel, and experience a range of actions, issues, ideas, and outcomes that many people have never had the chance to see.

Out of this I have developed a whole array of assumptions about young people, adults, society, and social change. Today, in the middle of day 2 of the Generation WakingUp gathering here in Seattle, we examined our unexamined assumptions. I want to share with you some of the assumptions I have nurtured, examined, critiqued, and reformed through my work in this field.

  1. Society’s conceptions of young people must evolve. We have created a condition where young people don’t know when childhood ends and youth begins, when youth ends and adulthood begins. We have created generations of young people who are disengaged from their personal, civic, and global responsibilities. This must change from the very beginnings of life, through radical shifts in the ways we conceive of childhood. We believe young people must be treated as equal partners throughout society.
  2. We do not have “youth problems” – we have community problems. Our communities have community problems that have to be addressed that way. There is a popular trend in our society to blame young people for their own problems, when in reality we share those challenges with them. We must act together in community to create positive, powerful, and sustainable change. We believe it takes a child to raise a village – not vice versa.
  3. All youth are not the same. The word youth is used to capture the experiences of young people anywhere between the ages of five to twenty-five. This must stop. The experience of an African American 11-year-old woman in the suburbs is not going to be the same as the Latino teen in the rural Midwest. Many adults seek to treat all youth as if they are the same, needing the same supports, structures, and experiences to inform their common understanding of their lives. THEY DON’T. Society has different demands on different youth, and depending on what we honestly expect of youth, we should support their individual needs. We believe that diversity is a value, and that we must encourage and support all young people as individual members of their larger communities.
  4. Young people should be connected to something larger than themselves. Where young people are fighting for rights, many have fought before. When young people are taking more responsibility, they are taking it from someone else. Youth must learn to advocate for people and places other than themselves. This way our communities can educate against ignorance, learn from elders, and form global movements for unity. We believe that unity is at the heart of community, and that youth are an integral part of a larger whole.
  5. Working with young people should not be “feel good” work. Don’t work with young people because it “feels good” to you. Do it because it is urgent. Segregation is splitting our communities apart, democracy is losing its vitality, the planet we live on is dieing. Adults must realize that our work must be more than a band-aid – we can be heal. Without your work, words, beliefs, and ideals our world is going to come undone. We believe that by denying the power of young people, our society is going to bring about its own demise.
  6. We must look at our work in a critical light and encourage others too, also. All people must critically reflect on their experience as youth, as adults, as teachers, as students, in all of their capacities, in order to have cause socially just, vital worldwide transformation. Anyone aspiring to educate, serve, train, coordinate or activate young people must be able to critically reflect and grow from their past experiences. We must grow from our personal and organizational limitations in order to truly transform our world, and this is how. We believe that we make the road by walking, and that it is each person’s responsibility to continue the job of road-building.

While you may share one or all of these assumptions with me, they are mine alone right now. I arrived at them after years of reflection, nurtured them through years of action and further reflection, and re-envisioned them through more time spent in the dreams.

Thank you to Generation WakingUp for this reminded that I come from somewhere within, and I continue from that place, and many others.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!