Interviews about Freechild and Social Justice

Today, I answered a pair of interviews from students studying Freechild. The first came from Sopheak Va at Arizona State University, and follows here.

1. What exactly do you do at  The Freechild Project? 
Freechild provides training, tools and technical assistance to young people and adults working together to change the world. Our trainings are for K-12 schools and nonprofit organizations, and focus on youth-led social change, youth-driven programming, youth involvement in decision-making, and adultism. Our tools include our website and more than 50 publications, including free ebooks and books for sale on Our technical assistance happens online and in-person, and highlights everything mentioned so far.

2. What is The Freechild Project about and what do they bring to the community? The mission of The Freechild Project is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world, especially those who have been historically denied the right to participate. We do this by facilitating training and workshops, and through our website.

3. What is your motivation and how to you stay motivated doing what you do? 
I grew up as a poor, white Canadian undocumented immigrant in a low-income African American neighborhood in the Midwestern United States. While I was growing up, my family volunteered a lot throughout our community. My parents believed that we should always give back whatever we can, so we gave our time and energy. I still do that through Freechild, and I teach others

4. What are some obstacles or difficulties have you encountered while trying to raise awareness? Adultism is the most oppressive force facing young people today. This bias towards adults leads to youth discrimination everyday, and it is single-handedly destroying families, communities and the fabric of society. You can learn more about it in the book I wrote.
5. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment(s) for the organization and personally? Our tremendous reach has served as an indication of our success. Since 2001, Freechild has partnered with more than 500 organizations to serve 1,000,000 young people and adults in 750 communities. Our trainers have taught thousands of hours of classes, and our free ebooks have been downloaded more than 10,000,000 times. Our materials are cited more than 1,500 times in a variety of publications both online and offline. However, I think the greatest accomplishment for me personally is having individual youth in struggling communities across the US reach out to us for assistance. It feels great to be of use.

The second interview comes from Michael Andrew Burkeitt from Temple University.

1. Do you think cases of social injustice are happening more frequently?

Social injustice is an inherent function of societies that place material value before human value, and because of this its been present throughout the course of humanity. As a culture, we’re learning to see social injustice, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been around before. If anything, our consciousness is helping elevate our society towards eliminating injustice – but we’re still a long, long ways away.

2. Why is this? are we examining with much more scrutiny?Yes. What some people call “political correctness” today is a heightened awareness of social injustices on the individual level. However, many people have been aware of social injustice for a long time, whether it was Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s or Augustus in the Roman Empire. Social justice is not new.


3. Do you feel that policing measures and tactics are a cause of the increase? Absolutely not. Policing is merely a symptom, and not the cause. Today, the cause is American capitalism, which has spread like a virus around the world and infected societies worldwide. But even American capitalism is just the modern incarnation of the injustice machine. Anytime anyone values any THING before people, there will be injustice.


4. Finally, where do we go from here? How can we best prevent social injustice from occurring moving forward. We need to radically re-envision society and work towards the new world that is possible, every single one of us. That begins with young people are goes towards everyone else in the world. Everyone, everywhere, all the time needs to be involved in critically examining what currently exists, re-envisioning what can be, and creating the new world. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. Moving forward, anyone who works with any other person anywhere at anytime can begin sparking these conversations, facilitate these conversations, and participate in these conversations as often as possible for whatever reason. Only from there will we begin to move the bar of injustice that’s suffocating so many people today.

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum


I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

A Youth Rights Group in Olympia Changes the World

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.

stopHere 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.