Engaging Youth Locally

Its important for all of us to balance our talk with our walk. Since I started writing this blog back in 2007, I’ve worked with a lot of different organizations to promote youth engagement. I’ve done it as a consultant, as a nonprofit staff member, as a state government worker, and in a few other capacities too. I think its important to keep my feet on the ground, even if my head is in the clouds!

Today is an example of my practice. Consulting the City of Olympia, I’ve been running a project focused on youth involvement in a new city park located in downtown. Its atypical for a number of reasons, primarily among which are its location and the users there so far. Sited around a popular artesian well, the park is essentially a slab of asphalt packed between two single story buildings. A cool design element in the form of a mosiac has been placed, but City investment in the space has been minimal so far.

Drawing together several youth engagement practitioners a few weeks ago, I gathered a massive list of wants that would encourage these organizations and programs to use the space in an ongoing fashion. That would populate the park with regular, pro-social values that would more accurately reflect Olympia’s values. However, that’s not the whole solution.

I’m facilitating an All Youth Forum in the park today. We’re expecting dozens of young people, and I’m looking forward to a simple, straight-forward conversation. I’ll report on that tomorrow. For now, here’s the flyer I designed for the event today:

Olympia All Youth Forum flyer

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.

Cultural Appropriation & Youth Voice

photos for posterThe other day, my 10-year-old daughter and I went out to dinner.

We were sitting in a booth at a Mexican restaurant downtown, and out of nowhere she asks what makes it okay for people in the US to make Mexican food. I asked her what she meant, and she asks what makes it okay for people who aren’t Mexican to make or eat Mexican food. She said, “Isn’t it theirs?”

So we talked about how people take things with them wherever they go, and sometimes, people from other places come to some places and take things with them when they go. I explained appropriation to her, and she asked about things like clothes and all that.

Developmentally speaking, starting around age 3-4 kids develop an acute awareness of fairness, and I think this was her application of her understanding across a complex situation. Funny to remember all the people in college I knew who were still wrestling with that concept. I guess I still do, too, some days.

Reflecting on it more, I wrestle with the relationship of cultural appropriation and youth voice. How do you think they tie together?

Olympia—Partners Needed for a Youth Event

Talking with a number of young people in Olympia in informal settings, I recently discovered there is a desire for a youth leadership training for them. However, without money to attend, these “nontraditionally engaged” youth don’t feel like they can do it. So I’m going to pull together a one-day youth action training here in Olympia focused on The Freechild Project Youth Action Kit.

Right now I’m calling for volunteers and partner orgs for this one day event at the end of June.
WHY
Provide nontraditional youth leaders the opportunity to build their skills and knowledge on how to change the world.
WHAT/WHEN 
In late June 2013, I am going to facilitate a one-day, nine-hour training for youth and adults focused on youth leadership in changing the world. This is a skill-building, knowledge-sharing event that will increase participants’ abilities to successfully take action for social change. The main target group is local youth of all stripes from the Thurston County area. 
This will be a hands-on, interactive, fun event that focuses on actual action to change the world. I do not talk down to youth, and I’m not a hype-man; instead, I facilitate practical, meaningful action by young people working with adults as partners. The goal of the training is to promote youth engagement in practical, powerful, and positive social change.
WHO
  • Up to 100 participants will be accepted to come individually or in groups.
  • There is no cost to participate, and there are NO requirements beyond pre-registration. 
  • Certificates can be given that designate the number of hours attended and topics covered.
  • Youth ages 12 to 19 will be invited directly.
  • Local youth-serving programs and organizations will be invited.
  • Adult allies of all kinds, including teachers, parents, youth workers, counselors, business people, elected officials, government workers, and others will be invited to attend.
WHERE 
TBD. Suggestions are welcome.
YOUR ROLE 
Freechild needs co-sponsors for this event. I am facilitating it for free and I’m 
not collecting any fees. I invite YOU and your organization to provide any of the following:
  • Participants
  • Logistical support
  • Location 
  • Event planning
  • Food
  • Promotion
  • Flip chart paper
  • Markers
  • Photocopies & printing
  • Give-aways
  • ?????
TOPICS
The topics for this training are still being determined, but will definitely cover how to organize Youth Action as I’ve written in The Freechild Project Youth Action Kit. They may also cover topics from The Freechild Project Youth Engagement Workshop Guide, which is focused on youth taking action to change the world.
QUESTIONS
  • What do I get for partnering? If you choose to partner with me for this event, I will include your logo on materials and acknowledge your org or business during the event.
  • How often will this happen? Its a one-time training.
  • How much does it cost? Its free.
  • Is there a program supporting it? This event is not program-centered.
  • What is it going to cover? This is a general skill-building and knowledge-sharing training event, and not a train-the-trainer event.
  • What are the outcomes? It may inspire participants to go out and take action in the community, and they’ll received materials to support that. It may inspire participants to change their own lives. It might just be fun for a day.
  • Are there other programs doing this? WASC, based in Oly, offers a statewide student leadership training statewide program doesn’t reach the generally disengaged youth population of the area. Voices of Youth is program-driven youth voice with a specific agenda focused on school health.
  • Why do you think you can do this? I have trained thousands of youth in hundreds of topics for more than a decade, and have developed youth leadership development programs in 50 communities nationwide. Learn more about me at my website.
  • Is there any real need for this beyond a few youths’ opinions? I love Oly’s youth programs, and have supported each of them by donating my time and money and volunteering for more. Currently, I know of no programs offered by CYS, GRuB, Together, Stonewall Youth, or the even among the city’s state agenciesthat  provide leadership development for their participants focused on general social change. Instead, they’re all topic-specific, if at all. So yes, there’s a real need, and generally speaking, local nonprofits don’t have the resources or staff to facilitate this kind of training. I’ve also done this 6 times before in Oly.
  • Why do you REALLY want to do this? Basically, I do all this work nationally and want to contribute back to the city I live in by volunteering my time, knowledge, and ability.
  • How can I get involved? Give me a call at (360) 489-9680 or email adam@freechild.org.
  • I’m not from Oly—can I still come? YES! Get in touch. 
  • How can I get this in my city? Contact me.
  • How can I get more info? Sign up for the CommonAction newsletter, the Freechild facebook page, or send me an email.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!