Seeking Solace in Work

Standing in the dark, cavernous sanctuary, I shouted from the stage into the midnight silence of the empty pews before me:

“Man, I come here tonight to call you, share with you, connect with you and be with you, alone as I am, just to talk.”

For the next three hours, I let loose with all the thoughts, feelings, ideas, concerns, criticism, conclusions and questions I could muster. Speaking with my greatest vibrato and whispering in my lowest loud tones, I was excited, nervous, scared and frustrated.

The previous year had been a roller coaster for me. That night, I was the 19-year-old youth director at a suburban church in the Midwestern United States. With little practical knowledge of how to do the job, I ran off of inspiration and enthusiasm, generally winning the hearts of young people with my personality before appealing to their minds with my abilities.

Before that night, I went to college for several months before having to give it up for both fiscal reasons, and simply because I had no idea what I was doing, literally. I worked at this church during that time, as well as running a youth program at another church and working in an independent living skills program for foster, homeless and other disconnected youth.

Out of frustration, a few months before then I’d packed my car full of all my worldly possessions—bed comforter, dress clothes, high school diploma, etc.—and headed off to make a life in New Orleans. I had no idea what I was doing then either, and halfway there my car permanently broke down; the drive shaft separated and went into the oil pan as I drove down the highway. A scrap heap, I sold my car and almost everything I owned to a wrecker for $50. Buying a bus ticket, I continued onward, only to run into rejection, theft, violence and loneliness for the next three weeks. Sleeping behind dumpsters and playing my harmonica on a street corner at the edge of the French Quarter after Mardi Gras, my parents and other adults back home wouldn’t save me, send me money or otherwise help me get on my feet. When my brother finally returned from an overseas deployment in the military, I asked him for help and he sent me a bus ticket. I went back to the city where I lived and took the youth director job back at that church.

Working late into the nights anytime during the week was my norm. I didn’t enjoy the nightlife of the university city where I lived, and I wasn’t really connected to other young people there, so being at the church all the time was comfortable for me.

By that point in my life, I was well aware that I wasn’t a traditionally religious person. My upbringing was punctuated by my mother’s zealous appreciation of Gandhi, who she constantly quoted and whose life she made lessons with. I became enamored with the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. in my teenage years, reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail repeatedly by then. I didn’t read the copy of the Koran I kept that often though, and the Tao Te Ching didn’t make a lot of sense to me then. I constantly listened to U2, though, and that wasn’t a bad leadoff for the spiritual development of the teenage me. Sure, I flipped through the Bible and henpecked my favorite scriptures, too.

I adamantly didn’t believe in the tenets of the faith though, and it was increasingly awkward for me to be working at this church. My job there was to lead Bible studies, teach Sunday school classes and informally counsel the youth there. Many of these teens grew up in the church and were stronger in their faith than me, as well as more determined to grow into their faith. Others were rebellious in ways I had never been, and I couldn’t relate to the struggles they wrestled with.

Oh, and the other part of my job was to co-lead church services with the minister. Once a month I got to deliver a sermon. These parts of the job were exhilarating for me. There was nothing as rewarding as weaving together my favorite Gandhi, King, U2 and Bible quotes with stories from my own life, and an occasional piece of news or other tale I’d picked up, only to have a kind middle-age mother come to me after the service to say she understood exactly what I was saying, or an older parishioner tell me she loved how dynamic I was. As much as I relied on metaphor and analogy, I strove to be understood and found it rewarding when people “got it.”

There were times when I didn’t get it though. Standing at the pulpit in the story at the beginning of this, I was wrestling with the universe as I stood there. That call was purposely Godless, distinctively direct, and purposefully submissive. I didn’t want to think I knew it all, because I felt responsible for the cataclysmic shape of my young life then, and clearly knew then that I just didn’t know what I was doing.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done this kind of midnight ghost preaching. After being invited to talk in many churches during the three years before that, I was (over)confident in my abilities as a speaker.

I share this memory with you to share with you my dream. When I was 15, I participated in an Urban League youth leadership program that included Toastmasters training. From that point forward, I wanted to speak professionally, captivating audiences with magically woven words to enlighten, educate and engage broad messages that flowed magically from my complex mind.

I have had success accomplishing that dream. However, I still feel like my work in this way has just begun, and I’m looking for ways to improve myself, improve my messages, and improve the vision in my heart and mind.

That job didn’t last long after my last midnight sermon. At some point towards the end, I painted a wild image of Golgotha, or Calvary, on the wall of the office I kept there. While I don’t have a pic of it, the image is burned in my mind. I didn’t feel like Jesus or a savior when I worked at that church or preached anywhere. Instead, I often felt like the thief basking in the shadow of greatness, hoping to be forgiven right before my own imminent demise.

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This is a speech given by Adam Fletcher in London in 2019.

Join Me in Marin!

Adam Fletcher in Marin County

Join me today in San Raphael, California for a series of presentations!

  • This morning I’m talking with more than 300 middle school students focused on my talk, GET ENGAGED WITH PURPOSE, PASSION AND POWER!
  • Then this afternoon I’m talking with community members, including parents, nonprofit workers and others, focused on The Big Ideas in Youth Engagement. 
  • This evening I’m talking with Marin School District educators and others in the Bay Area focused on MEANINGFUL STUDENT INVOLVEMENT.

Its an exciting time, and I’d LOVE to have you along!

Check out my Facebook page for pics throughout the day and more…

Reflecting on Brazil

In November 2014, the Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas em Educação, Cultura e Ação Comunitária (Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture and Community Action), or CENPEC, hosted me for a weeklong visit to São Paulo, Brazil. As a longtime consultant focused on youth engagement, I have become accustomed to touring across the North America to teach, speak and work with all kinds of diverse communities. However, nothing I have ever done paralleled this trip. Over the course of eight days, I spoke to eight different groups, workshopped with more than 300 youth and adults, was interviewed by several newspapers and television stations, and met with countless educators, activists and policymakers from across Brazil.

CENPEC is a nonprofit organization based in Brazil. Its main goal is to develop initiatives towards improving the quality of public education and promoting civic participation. Focused on public schools, public educational spaces in general and public policymaking, CENPEC challenges inequality and promotes social inclusion. Much of its work focuses on assisting the Brazilian government to build innovative policies for youth, in and out of school. Lilian Kelian, who works with CENPEC, found me from my writing. Here is a little more of that story.

Brazil 3
My learning began as I left Seattle, with Lilian as a kind and patient teacher for the rest of my journey.

During my appearances in São Paulo, I shared experiences and lessons I have learned through the course of my career. I facilitated workshops on youth/adult partnerships for young people and adults there with Programa Jovens Urbanos, a cultural program working in three cities across Brazil. Using interactive activities and working with an excellent translator, I found it challenging to explore the concepts of equity and equality between children, youth and adults. However, the enthusiasm of the youth and adult participants carried me and we had more than a few breakthroughs. The young people shared experiences from their own lives that sounded similar to what I’ve heard in my work across the United States and Canada: Whether inadvertently or on purpose, adults consistently use demeaning language, act in discriminatory ways, and generally treat children and youth in demeaning ways throughout our communities. These participants taught me that the effects of this are felt in schools, at cultural centers, throughout communities, and across Brazilian society.

To say that São Paulo is an enormous city doesn’t quite do it justice. There are 20,000,000 residents of the city, which makes it 2.5 times the size of New York City. Descending into the city, the skyscrapers seem to roll on and on in a never-ending quest for space. After a rushed beginning to my time there, midweek my life slowed down when I was taken on a tour. We went to a low-income suburb on the outskirts called Campo Limpo. The first organization I was introduced to was at the Casa da Mulher da Criança, which houses União Popular Mulheres. Built in a small house, I was shown an education center, a drop-in center for children, a textile center for women in the community, a professional kitchen, a computer lab in partnership with the Agencia Popular Solano Trindade, and a small office for a community bank called Union Sampaio. All of this was crammed into a humble space, and as it was carefully explained to me, it was all driven by the local community—not by government mandate or driven by government funding. I was astonished to meet a community center that was actually driven by the community it served! I also got to explore another cultural center, this one packed with active programming for young people that was happening while I was there. It included a program styled after Theatre of the Oppressed, capoeira and a few other activities. While I was at this second organization, I got to meet a group of youth who worked as program staff in this center. Harkening back to my own experience as a young person, it was energizing to find resonance with young people doing similar work more than 20 years later halfway around the world.

I met many organizations during the week. One of the most impactful experiences I had was learning about The Tree School. The Tree School is one of the most dynamic, engaging educational projects I have ever learned about. Focused on decolonizing knowledge, The Tree School was founded by two organizations: Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program based in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp in Palestine, and Brazilian-based art collective Contrafilé. As I learned about this school, I learned the history of the baobob tree in Brazil and the potential for fully consensual schools that are based on non-hierarchical relationships between adults, children and youth. This will definitely expand my work in school transformation that I began with SoundOut. You can learn more about The Tree School from this pdf.

Brazil 1
My last presentation was at the Seminário Internacional: Educação + Participação = Educação Integral. In this session I was credited with introducing the nation of Brazil to the concept of adultism, which is bias towards adults. Expanding on the ways adultism happens throughout society, I drilled in on schools and youth work directly, exposing some of the ugly assumptions that underlie our well-meaning but poorly informed intentions to teach children and youth. I was paired for this session with Marcus Faustini, an education activist and community organizer from Rio de Janeiro. Talking in-depth about his passionate work with youth in Rio’s flavelas, the audience laughed, gasped and clapped in both of our talks, but for different reasons. I quickly understood that Marcus and I were brothers following different roads towards a common goal, and I admired him, too.

At this same event, I was reminded by one of my hosts about the other time I’d visited Brazil. In 2004, I was invited to present at a conference focused on developing youth polices across the country, on the local, state and federal levels. She explained to me that I had left an impression then as my reports on North American youth policy had been used nationwide to inform the creation of youth involvement policies. I was told that because of my work a decade ago, youth councils, youth voice training programs and other activities are now the norm in several large cities, and they are expanding in more rural areas now. As a consultant, I am used to posing questions and challenging norms to which I don’t get to see outcomes. Suddenly, I was confronted by stories that what I had done a decade earlier made a difference. If that weren’t rewarding enough, the conference moderator announced at the end of the Seminário Internacional that what I shared this time would inform policy and practice for at least another decade. More than gratifying, that it was humbling to think that a philanthropic foundation would invest in me to travel 8,000 miles to teach my philosophies and practices in another language in hopes I would inform work to improve a nation’s educational practices. But to have that investment affirmed at the end of my work there was wholly empowering for me, personally and professionally.

The whole trip affected me this deeply. I felt a deep political affinity to many of the people I met there, an affinity that restored some of the faith I’d lost in the concept of Community. The self-defeating anarchism and alienating capitalistic tendencies I am surrounded by and part of here in the Pacific Northwest frequently exhaust me. In my consulting practice I take great pleasure at working in different parts of the US and Canada, if only because I meet people equally committed to democracy building and genuine social transformation. However, in Brazil that went to a whole different level where I felt a political communion with peers that I haven’t felt in a long time. Restorative experiences are good for anyone’s soul, and mine felt at home.

Learning about some of the radical political action in Brazil re-centered my viewpoint on what people within communities can do to improve conditions for themselves and others. The real meaning of social change soaked through the stories of the cultural centers I visited, the activist art I saw, and the evolutionary practices I saw underway with children, youth and communities. Mostly though, the whole trip reminded me that I am skilled, knowledgeable and valuable to people and communities. I had to travel halfway around the world to see that, and to have that affect me deeply. I am still learning right now, and estimate that I will for a long while.
Instead of another run-of-the-mill jaunt to help summon change across the country, this trip took me to South America in order to take me deeper inside myself. At this point in my career, I can’t imagine a more powerful, positive and restorative experience. Now to get back to work and make something of myself!



Challenging Youth Gurus

They have become a staple of the world of afterschool programs and nonprofits: youth gurus.

I’ve spent a few years traveling around the country teaching adults how to relate to children and youth, and a few more before that doing exactly that. Through reflection and relentless critical self-examination, I’ve arrived at a few trinkets of learning that I enjoy using to help others discover what they know.

Along my path, I’ve interacted with a number of folks who are out on the circuits telling youth workers, teachers, and parents how to do their jobs. These are the “experts” about youth who often come armed with an big egos that match questionable credentials in youth work.

Here are some signs that you fall into the guru category.

25 Signs You’re A Youth Guru

  1. All of your friends in real life are youth.
  2. You think people over 30 can’t “get” youth.
  3. “Said no one ever”, “twerk” and “friend jack” are normal parts of your everyday vocabulary.
  4. You check your TakingITGlobal and KooDooz accounts every day.
  5. You can’t go a day without taking a selfie.
  6. You get excited by pop culture disasters because it means another topic in your convos with youth.
  7. You don’t really know much about youth themselves.
  8. You spend a lot of time thinking about your resume.
  9. You met your boyfriend or girlfriend at a youth program.
  10. You drop pop culture references while talking with your grandma.
  11. You swear by the mantra, “YOLO.”
  12. You think having a website is the same as actually creating an organization.
  13. You always talk about youth without youth.
  14. If you’re young, you talk about youth like you’re not one.
  15. You describe yourself as a “youth networker.”
  16. One of your proudest moments was when you were retweeted by the White House.
  17. You see nothing wrong with dressing like a youth no matter what age you are.
  18. You talk about all youth like they’re the same, no matter who, what, when, where, why, and how you’re talking about them.
  19. You only go to new places, listen to new music, or try new experiences based on youth recommendations.
  20. You write guest blog posts as a “youth expert” to share your wisdom about how to get more followers and likes.
  21. Your worst nightmare is not being to access a group of young people for a whole day.
  22. You have used a variety of descriptors for your youth guru-ness, like “ninja,” “evangelist,” “maven,” “pro.”
  23. You would never email a youth; you only txt ppl instead.
  24. There is almost nothing you wouldn’t share with youth.
  25. You don’t see why it’s so hard for adults to relate to youth.

All that’s not to say that these youth gurus are bad or wrong. However, it is meant to challenge the assumption that simply because someone calls themselves a guru, they are one. Do your due diligence and ask about folks, ask hard questions, and find out whether they pass the muster beyond simple appearances. That’s the only way to know when you’re dealing with a genuine article!

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

Adam Fletcher: Speaker for Hire

After completing a youth speaking program through Omaha’s Urban League when I was 14, I gave my first public speech related to youth. Talking to a neighborhood church about youth in our community, I gave a rousing call to arms for church members to support activities me and my friends by volunteering and with donations.

Ever since then I’ve been charged by getting in front of crowds. From my largest ever speaking engagement to a crowd of 10,000 to support community action to talking to small local groups about youth, social change, personal engagement, and more, there’s nothing as exhilarating to me as being in front of a crowd. I love storytelling, stringing together research and practice, and sharing the examples from my own life and work that make speaking come to life.
After taking a short hiatus from the national speaking circuit, I’ve decided to make myself available to national audiences again. I’m inserting my formal Speaker’s Packet here. It introduces me, details what I talk about, who I’ve spoke to, and shares other details for making decisions about conferences, events, and other occasions that require great speakers.

I’d love to hear what you think of it! Share your thoughts with me? If you do, I’ll give you a discount when you book me! Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing or calling (360)489-9680.

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

Generations and Adultism

“We cannot wait to engage youth any longer, because they are not waiting for us. Whether or not we give them our tacit approval, they are moving ahead with the future right now, just as they always have, only faster.”

When I launched into my keynote speech last month at a Raleigh, North Carolina, conference focused on youth engagement in rural economic development, I expected more hissing from the audience than I got. Instead, I heard a chorus of “Yes sur”s and “Teach!”s, which encouraged me to tell the truth I know.

“I want you to count five things that you’re passionate about right now, that you care deeply about, that you’re engaged in. If your work isn’t on that list then I want you to stop trying to engage young people right now. Right now, finish, get done, put down the pen and step away from the conference. Because if you aren’t engaged deeply in the work you’re doing, you cannot, absolutely can not, ask young people to become deeply engaged in it. Do not ask something of youth that you are not doing yourself.”

Over the course of my career I have learned in fits and starts, constantly absorbing information and occasionally digesting it enough to share with others. It has been marvelous to grow in my public speaking abilities, and in Raleigh I had the opportunity to share some of the recent knowings I have stumbled across lately in my brain.
I shared my Cycle of Engagement, and the Perceptions of Youth model I developed. I talked about young people taking action to make the world a better place, all around the world. I explored the possibilities and potentials of youth-led social change and how that could impact every young person in every community all around the world. I upset people, too, speaking boldly about the demands of society today in the ways that I do. I received more feedback from this statement than any other:

“Our judgments of youth reflect more on the status of society than they do any one generation.”

Viewing any generation, current or past, and making unequivocal conclusions about them is adultism. If youth state things about “their generation”, it’s internalized adultism. When adults make any unequivocal conclusion, its cultural adultism. Because somehow we’ve managed to position adults, including sociologists and teachers and parents and politicians, to make damning and bragging statements about youth, to determine value and worth and position and status according to their birth years, which, like many other social demographic factors, are largely irrelevant in determining a person’s worth. I believe that young people throughout the ages, and particularly over the last 50 years of the hyper-commercialization of Western society, have been routinely frowned upon for their inherent desire to be themselves in the face of society that would have them be nothing more than less-than-adult until they are fully adults. That’s a shame. Oh, and generations are fictions.
Oh yes. And out in the hallway after my speech I had dozens of people talking with me, sharing their approval and disapproval and questions and comments and concerns, and it was great. But my statement about generation judgments came up more than anything else I said.
“Do you really believe that?”
“You know, young people really are not as capable as they were when I was young.”
“There are some things you can say that are always true about kids today.”
The beat when on. I had folks drumming on me for opinions about “kids today”, asking for ideas and celebrating their grand conclusions. I mostly smiled and nodded, but frankly, it drove me back to my computer. I don’t think I’ve left this poor machine for more than eight hours at a time over the last two weeks since I’ve been home.
You see, I’m pounding out a manuscript for a book I’m tentatively calling The Freechild Project Complete Guide to Adultism. Just over a decade ago I learned about the systematic, cultural, and internalized oppression facing young people simply because they’re young. I soaked in material written by Jenny Sazama and Barry Checkoway, among the little amount of literature available on the topic at that point. I made the Freechild webpage on adultism, and I used language surrounding it regularly. Today I’m continuing to write, and expect to be finished with this by Christmas. Its an exciting time for me.
Somewhere in all of this I’m finding a bold strength in my words, and really relishing writing. I hope that you don’t mind the increased frequency of the blog; writing seems to be mixed in my blood.

MLK Day Speech: Too Late

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with a fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time…The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the floods; it ebbs….Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: Too Late.”

When Dr. King wrote those words in 1963 the United States was being torn apart by hatred and bigotry. The consistently painful suffering of racism and the hypocritical denial of democracy could not be denied in the face of such a movement as Dr. King stood at the forefront, and through the actions of thousands change came. It is not complete, and as Senator Obama said in 2006, “We have not yet arrived at this longed for place. For all the progress we have made, there are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us…”

Despite that unsolved crisis of possibility, progress has been made. And it’s from that progress that we should take hope.

Our movement is different from the civil rights movement, but it is the same, too. We are both fighting against visible discrimination: one against the color of a person’s skin, the other against a person’s apparent age. We are both fighting against segregation: one for race-based integration, the other for age-based integration. We are both working for a greater good beyond our own identity-based politics that is built on hope, nonviolence, justice and democracy, in the truest sense of the word.

But we stand at the ebb of the tide, the edge of a fault line, and the top of a precipice. It seems that just as adults throughout our society begin to grapple with the prospect that all children and youth should be treated with the respect of full humanity, our young people themselves are shooting towards the future without the assistance of said adults. They don’t need our permission to build the Internet anymore. They don’t need our acknowledgement to make the latest band the biggest thing out there. They don’t need our angst to fuel their creativity or our placating gestures to achieve their dreams. Technology is rapidly enabling youth to have a growing sense of self-determination. Period. Their ability to transmit, relay, create and transform knowledge is greater than ever before. Within the last decade we have seen youth movements around the world lead to change, with hundreds of thousands of youth in Chile walking out on bad schools and students being instrumental in the pro-democracy movement in Iran. The American government knows the abilities of these exotic-ized stories, with Secretary Clinton herself speaking to an Alliance of Youth Movements summit in Mexico City. As Robert Kennedy alluded to, there must be tremendous value in youth empowerment to American foreign policy if one of the Secretary of State is fostering a belief in engaging young people.

However, within this country we routinely and grossly underestimate the energy, ability and power of young people to create positive social change within the communities they live in. Relegated to feel-good community service projects and segregated in low-value age-segregated educational factories across the nation, this country continues to try to teach children and youth that they are merely the recipients of the society they live in, the inheritors of something worth preserving and maintaining for all time. However, this flies in the face of the dynamicism of youth and the realities of the present. The fact of the matter is that high schools students in Lake Oswego, Oregon aren’t waiting for adults to change: they’re taking their fight against the town’s curfew law, which is based on age discrimination, to the US Supreme Court. Youth across the country are organizing for better educations than what they’re getting now. And yes, young people today are leading their own organizations to create change.

The inherent tension between these realities brings me back to Dr. King’s message.

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

We must stay awake in the face of the changes young people are making throughout our society right now, and work to support, sustain and enhance their efforts. Every adult can be an ally to youth. If we do not take steps to make that a reality, then shame on us for fulfilling the epitaph Dr. King suggested we would face, if only because of our own ignorance: “Too Late.”

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