Voices of the Damned Youth

damnedyouthWe should never give up on any young person, or any person as far as that’s concerned. There is nobody – absolutely nobody – in our society who is too far gone to simply relinquish them to the trash can of society. Especially children and youth.

In reality though, many young people are born into indifference, apathy, and intransigence. Depression, inability, and oppression are holding legions of children and youth from realizing the dreams they could have.

They face families, communities,and nations that are wholly indifferent to their realities. Because of this, these children and youth struggle with society’s norms, cultures, customs, and behaviors. They can be gifted or struggling, adult-pleasing or anti-authoritarian. A few times, they lash out. Mostly, they internalize.

I know of this because its lived experience for me. Identifying in turns as an impoverished homeless immigrant child, white-kid-grown-up-in-an-African-American-neighborhood, nearly dropped out, couldn’t-pay-for-college, been-a-youth-worker-all-my-life kinda guy, I have struggled with those senses of alienation all of my life. My story has been told by a half-dozen journalists who think they should expose the scars as well as the stars in my life. Its not their story to tell though, its mine.

The same is true for many youth today. Their stories deserve—mustbe told, but not by well-meaning adults. Not by reporters or grantwriters, poets or politicians. Instead, we must make space for damned youth to speak for themselves.

To be specific, I want you to know that I believe we should routinely, systemically, and completely engage the voices of young people who identify as academically failing. Poor, Low Income, and Working Class. Homeless. Minority culture. GBLTQQ. African American, American Indian, and other communities of color. Immigrants. Runaway, foster, and Ageing Out. Incarcerated. Court-involved. Juvenile Delinquents. Addicts and Abusers. And many, many others.

We shouldn’t deny any young person the opportunity to share their voices, and I’m not suggesting that we shut down one youth in order to create another. I am fully in support of expanding every possibility available throughout our society in order to create more space for the voices of youth. Youth Voice includes any expression of any young person anywhere, anytime, about anything. (Luckily) It doesn’t depend on adult approval. I’m suggesting that we, as adults, make space for youth voice, and especially those of the damned youth.

These youth are damned because they’re inconvenient for adults to listen to. They’re damned because they say things we don’t want to hear in ways we don’t want to listen to. They’re damned because adults are the majority culture and youth are the minority culture. They’re damned because they’re youth. More importantly though, they’re not really damned at all.

In sharing my own voice, I learned that I wasn’t damned; moreso, I am vastly privileged. I believe my younger brothers and sisters must learn this too, and so I call for them to have the space I was fortunate enough to experience as a young person, no matter how rarified it was.

Voices of the damned youth require:

  • More youth voice from the children and youth who we don’t routinely hear from.
  • More youth involvement from the historically disengaged.
  • More empowerment for youth who are oppressed.
  • More democracy for everyone.

Then we’re going someplace spectacular, together.

No Ms. Smith, There’s No Such Thing As Troubled Youth

Dear Ms. Smith,

I recently read your blog the other day about “troubled youth”, and felt compelled to respond.

I know you meant well, but the way you framed the problem was diminutive and belittling of the teens you are talking about. Unfortunately, most writers do it this way, because that’s the way mainstream society frames the argument.

I take umbrage with this, because there isn’t a youth on this planet who is “troubled”. There are a lot of incapable adults who are ignorant of how to reach young people of all kinds. I’m not saying those as mean words either, but as accurate descriptors.

These adults are parents who don’t know how to parent, teachers who don’t know how to teach, a society that doesn’t know how to be a community.

That doesn’t make the situations they’re in the fault of these so-called troubled youth, but of the society we share. It’s our problem. We’re the troubled ones, especially the voters who allow services to go unfunded and the politicians who are beholden to the prisons where “those kids” get sent off to, or the service industry jobs they end up in for a lifetime of indentured servitude.

They aren’t troubled youth; we’re a troubled society. We need to accept that responsibility. As Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

These young people could be canaries in a cave, as it were. What are they telling us?

Sincerely,

 – Adam

Post Script: It was just announced that George Zimmerman is not guilty of six charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin. I will let this post stand as my tribute to that situation, and will write more at a later date.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!