Back in 2000, I was serving a fellowship with a national foundation in Washington, DC. Focusing on youth engagement, I participated in hundreds of hours of train-the-trainer workshops and professional coaching with Drs. Jim and Pam Toole. They helped me and my small cohort prepare for adventures in the ten states where we worked, mine being Washington.
Here in Olympia, I was the Youth Ambassador in Washington State’s education agency. Throughout my yearlong fellowship, I advocated for youth involvement and youth voice in communities across the state. Nonprofits and government agencies across the state sponsored me as I trained their communities, and I provided technical assistance and other services in many other areas.
Late in December 2000, I was invited to a meeting of “Get It Right!”, a youth rights group in Olympia. Sitting with a dozen youth in a cooperative arts space downtown, I listened as they railed against adult oppression and youth liberation. They were on fire for freedom and liberty from adult tyranny, and honestly, it all confused me greatly!
I grew up in a neighborhood where youth didn’t suffer adults; adults suffered youth. Cops routinely rounded up my friends, school principals ripped down their basketball courts, and old people locked their doors in constant fear that the youth in the neighborhood would plunder their houses – and mostly rightly so. So, to see youth trying to placate domineering parents or throw off the shackles of mighty schools confused me.
With time and their gentle mentoring, I learned more about the youth rights movement. Online, I met Alex, the leader of the then infant National Youth Rights Association. He guided me to several books, and I found several others, including Jonathan Holt’s revolutionary The End of Childhood.
Get It Right! didn’t continue for long. They conducted a few pickets and graffited some throughout town, but an organized campaign for social change didn’t emerge. At some point in the year I was involved with the group, they did change the world though. Someone brought in a collection of quotes from A.S. Neill, the founder of the seminal youth rights institution, Summerhill School in England. One of them inspired the group to suggest to me the name of my most enduring work thus far:
“Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.”
From that was borne the name, The Freechild Project. And that’s how a youth rights group in Olympia changed the world.