Reflecting on 2013

Adam Fletcher in Seattle

This last year has been a spectacular journey in my professional life. Throughout the year, I’ve discovered new heights of learning and opportunities, while remembering the roots I’ve grown from more deeply.

I spent a lot of 2013 in a writing cycle, alternately working on manuscripts for 7 publications, 3 of which are now in print. That’s been an exciting path, working diligently on finishing my biggest writing yet, Ending Discrimination Against Young People. I’m really proud of that work. Within the next week, I’ll also be launching a new publication, An Introduction to Holistic Youth Development. I’m pretty excited about that, too.

Starting in September, I began coordinating the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council youth services, including $1,000,000 in grants and a youth council. I’d been working with their Youth Alliance through 2012 and 2013, and now I’m co-coordinating that with the awesome Todd Johnson from ESD 113. That professional collaboration, along with many others, is greatly increasing my depth of knowledge of youth as economic agents, including youth entrepreneurship, youth workforce education, and many more areas. Its exciting.

Throughout the late fall, I’ve had excited opportunities to reconnect with my longtime colleagues Heather Manchester and Sadie Schnitzler. We’d all worked together, along with Mishaela Duran and a few others, in the highly-selective Youth Ambassadors program operated by the Points of Light Foundation back in 2000-01. Its been exciting reconnecting with both of them, Heather after living in Northern Ireland for 6 years, and Sadie after living in Tibet for a decade. They’re both awesome people, and good for my brain.

My partnerships this last year were interesting, especially working deeply with Lois Brewer at Seattle Public Schools and Kyla Lackie, formerly of SOAR. I really miss Kyla now that she’s moved on to work with Highline Public Schools, but I know she’s doing good work there, and I’m definitely happy for her. Lois and I continue to work together to promote service learning and youth engagement at Cleveland High School and throughout the district. Collaborating with me extensively on that work has been the awesome Teddy Wright. Teddy and I continue finding new ways to partner, adding to more than 5 years of our collaboration. I’m also still drawn to my friend Mike Beebe’s work, who partnered with me in southeast Washington this year as we launched a SoundOut Student Voice Program there.

I continue to admire and talk with many of North America’s leaders in this work, as well as stay connected to the international field. Its been my privilege to contribute to Roger Holdsworth’s Connect magazine in Australia throughout the year, and to find a new outlet in Hazel Owen’s Ethos Consultancy blog out of New Zealand.

The year has taught me patience, and has encouraged me to gather my forces for the near future. The efforts out there to distract young people from their true engagements throughout life are mighty, and only getting stronger. I want to work to re-engage them, and all of society, in what matters. 2014 will be an exciting, exhilarating path towards that mission.

I’m taking a blogging break for the rest of the year, and will launch my writing fresh again in the New Year. I am coming back with a new style focused on quick, easy news and views. STAY ENGAGED, and have great holidays!

Newly Engaged Communities

As a consultant working across the nation to promote engagement, when I’m introduced to a community for the first time, I’m often told the story of so-called good ole days. Hanging on some sociologist’s assessment of the 1950s, the movies Gangs of New York or American Graffiti, or the memory of an old timer, these idyllic images conjure an America that might have been, and rues the country that is.


It’s not one side of the political spectrum that does this kind of daydreaming either, nor is it one socio-economic group, race, culture, age group, or religion. Instead, it’s like a national obsession to forget the reality of the moment and lament the status of the past.

What I’ve found as well is that none of this is true. The bellyaching, moaning and groaning about kids today, politics today, and the world today just isn’t real. Instead, it’s the product of over-active memory banks, under-analyzed social analysis, and over-ambitious historians who’d paint the world over in whatever shade of history they specialize in.

The simple truth is that our communities today are on a rapid and positive upswing. Young people are more engaged than ever in the health and well-being of the world they live in, and adults are paying attention like never before. There are robust debates happening every day over the very nature of democracy, and the propulsion of society towards social justice and equality is crescendoing as never before.

Before you call me a Pollyanna, I want you to consider this: I grew up poor in a low income African American neighborhood in the Midwest. I’ve seen that neighborhood continually experience blighting at the hands of indifferent, opportunistic white city leaders who don’t value it for what it’s worth. However, I’ve also seen its resilient nature and emergent desire to be different. I benefitted from the love and generosity of strangers in that neighborhood, and I’ve become who I was raised to be in that neighborhood.

I would suggest that’s the story of America today. If you look out and see a nation in disrepair and without regard for its own humanity, then that’s what you raised it to be, and what your foreparents thought it was. But if you look out and see the positive, powerful potential of people who struggle and survive and thrive and shine every single day, then that’s what it is.

Everyday, more than ever before, we’re witnessing the emergence of newly engaged communities. Rising out of the ashes like the mythical Phoenix, these communities represent the hopeful future of this country and the world. They are the birthing places of engaged citizenry, and like those cosmic explosions happening millions of light years away, these communities are launching the stars of the future right now! And they aren’t the upperclass suburban sprawl from the American dream of 60 years ago.

Instead, they’re the blocks in the hood where food activists have planted gardens and raised urban bounties. They’re the inner city schools where students have organized with teachers to improve the schools of today for the students of tomorrow. They’re the parks with volunteer trash patrols, libraries with banned book reading sessions, and nonprofits with spunky staff who promote the heck out of their minimum wage mission to save the world.

These newly engaged communities are our communities. They’re made of people, just like you and me. And they’re here now. These are our newly engaged communities, and this is our newly engaged life. So let’s live engaged, starting now.

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

YOU are Heartspace

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka , and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.” – Black Elk

This invisible web of engagement called Heartspace depends on your existence. When you stop existing Heartspace stops existing in the way you experienced it. That is a very true reality, and it is true of every single thing that exists, that has every existed, and that will ever exist throughout the Universe.
All existence shares Heartspace, so that when one thing ceases to be engaged with another, the effect of that ending ripples throughout all existence. The opposite is true too: When we engaged with anything in existence, all things experience that existence to some effect. The measurement of these effects can only be known by the individuals involved, demonstrating the reality of the Butterfly Effect in the Principle of Engagement.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Build Or Suffer

We are called to be 
the architects of the future, 
not it’s victims.”
– Buckminster Fuller

It seems like we’re accidental builders, or that a lot of us are. Without intention and without designs, we meet people and go to places. Then we do things and learn. Then we go other places and meet other people. Along the way we make friends, we pull together connections, and we build community. By accident.

In my final year of college I had the chance to reflect on my 14 years experience as a youth worker- that was 2002.  It was during the course of writing a 150-page critical examination of those experiences that I discovered that all my work had a thread I hadn’t consciously acknowledged before: I consistently sought jobs where I taught children and youth. That was just beginning to change when I started at The Evergreen State College, the eighth college in my undergraduate experience. But until that point, direct service teaching kids and teens was where my heart and hands were at, and its what caused my mind to explode with ideas and possibilities.

Rather than living life by accident, I had unconsciously threaded together a career with powerful learning and substantive impact. I continued to weave that thread after that, and up to this point it has been very rewarding. But after writing that reflection, I started threading my needle on purpose and weaving with intention. To me, that is being the architect that Bucky talked about above.

How can we deliberately grab life by the horns and live life with intention? How can we not suffer the consequence of unconsciousness and not be victimized by the journeys we are all on in every part of our lives, personal, professional, social, academic, cultural, and so on?

I have spent the last year studying this commandment of “Build or Suffer”. I want to build! Throughout all of the rest of my life, I want to be the absolute best dad, partner, teacher, and live-r that I possibly can be! I am excited to keep learning, and am well aware that I have a whole lifetime of opportunity ahead of me. The difference is that today I am designing my learning in all these ways, rather than suffering my unconscious choices. What a life!

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

Making REAL Community

What is “real” community?

I was facilitating a meeting of the Council of Governments in Ephrata, Washington, last night and stumbled across the notion that people are generally in agreement about what “community” is – “You know, its the people and places and cultures and attitudes that surround us at any given point.” All 25 people in the room nodded their heads in agreement.

But then somebody chipped in that that isn’t the same as “real” community. “What is ‘real’ community then?” “Well, it’s the people who we are really connected with, who we really “click” with.”

Maybe the issue is that we don’t really connect or click with very many people. At the turn of the century sociologist Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, an indictment of modern society’s indifference for this idea of “real” community. Using a bunch of different measures for how Americans are involved throughout their communities, Putnam carefully laid out how our social capital is falling because we don’t have “real” community around us, and because of that we’re all essentially going to hell in a handbasket.

I think that young people are proving this wrong.

Not in droves, and not all at once, but more than ever, young people are connecting meaningfully, powerfully, and purposefully throughout their communities. They’re forming and reforming our ideas of what “real” community is, and along the way they’re strengthening the places we live and the people we live around.

I want to challenge anyone who isn’t sure about what “real” community is, or who doesn’t believe that “real” communities are still being grown, to research and meet any one of the powerful communities featured on The Freechild Project website. And then look for “real” community among the young people of your city or town or neighborhood. Guaranteed, some of them have it.

Now, if we could only get them to show what the secret to forming those communities is…

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

The Heart of Community Partnerships

One of the main issues I have become aware of through my work in democracy building is community partnerships. How many times have I heard people say community partnerships are the hardest part of their work, or that working with (insert) kids/youth/parents/grandparents/families/communities/community groups is almost impossible.

I have learned that getting to the heart of community partnerships is actually a relatively easy move. It is staying there that is hard.

Every person who works with communities- either as a social worker or teacher or youth worker or community organizer or as afterschool staff or nonprofit director or any of dozens of other roles- is inherently positive. It is in the very essence of people who do community work to be positive, and that is the heart of community partnerships: Positivity.

Before you hem and haw at that idea, take a minute to think about why you do the work you do. Why do you want to change the world? Why do you work with youth? Or anybody else? It is because you believe the world can be a better place than it is right now. You believe people can live better than they do now. You believe in a positive future, even if you have never named it that.

So now that you have acknowledged that you are positive, let’s get to reality: It is hard to stay positive.

It may seem like we work in unfair circumstances. We are measured against by roughshod accountability goals and half-thought through outcome reporting; we operate from hyper-standardized programs in hyper-diverse communities; we are driven by bombastic community leaders or motivated by hateful, hurtful community depression and abuse. It is a tough reality that many of us face everyday. For young people, the situation is even more dire, as you face a dire future in an apparently ungrateful society that seems hellbent on forgetting your importance to their well-being.

BUT, and that’s a BIG but… There is hope, and its all around us. More importantly, there is a better reality facing us right now: That is YOU.

Your postivity is the heart of community partnerships. It is the heart of empathizing deeply with every client, ally, partner, friend, and partner you have, need, or want in your community. By speaking your positivity out loud you will inspire others to connect with you deeply, and by acting out your positivity consciously you will demonstrate the practical power your community wants and needs right now.


So spend time connecting with that part of you that believes deeply in what you are doing, and name its positive powerful potential. Then get to work building the partnerships you know your community needs today and in the future.

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

Slide or Fall?

I’m sitting in a coffee shop here in my city of Olympia, Washington. Olympia is a small capital city, populated by state government workers, students from The Evergreen State College, and the various dwellers who rely on serving those populations. There’s a sizable homeless population here owing to the temperate climate, and there’s the children of the working- and middle-class majority.

Just now some middle-aged white guys were pontificating on the debt ceiling facade being thrown up by Congress and the White House, and given the badge I wear as a non-threatening looking member of their society, was privy to them speaking their truths. Oh joy.

Among the “wisdoms” pouring forth was the inevitable Fall of America into the broadcast pit of despair they see coming. From that place one of them postulated whether it would take a gradual slide to wake up the masses, or a sudden fall.

This type if hopelessness seems to be grabbing the consciousness of many in the middle class today. They’re feeling the absence of their financial access and the toil of the daily news worsening. This is leading to questions about the efficacy of representative government and corporate ownership of democratic functioning throughout American society.

Traveling the country over the last decade talking and teaching young people and adults who do the good hard work of social change has shown me a lot of realities, not the least of which being, “Duh.”

I know that I grew up different than a lot of people, homeless with hope-filled parents living on optimism seems anomalous. Spending my teens living as a white kid in an African American neighborhood doesn’t happen that often. “Making it” afterwards is even rarer. Learning about the histories and herstories of oppressed peoples and committing oneself to advocating radical social transformation is rarer still. I know all that.

But from that unique vantage point I’ve seen the realities at work in thousands of hearts, minds and actions across this country all this time:

* America, as an idea, has always been rough for a large number of people whose voices aren’t routinely heard through mainstream media or represented by politicians.
* Americans, as a people, have always been critical of the efficacy of the government. Always. This Is not a new phenom, or a different space. This country rallies, albeit with motivation.
* Young people always lead the way, and despite what mainstream society believes, there are still young people among us.

There is a long road ahead, but even with the mythology of America laid plain, it’s ridiculous to assume that the tenants of free speech and democratic governance aren’t enough to redeem this nation.

The hopelessness of the growing majority should not supplant the truthfulness of vast commitment to democracy. No amount of corporatism, commercialism, or gross consumption can placate the determined breath of our social power. Stand up for hope! And let’s rekindle the knowledge and abilities of children and youth to lead us forward.

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

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

What Adam Fletcher Believes

As more attention is put on me and my work, I find an increasing number of people assigning me their interpretations of my beliefs. While I’ve shared my assumptions before, and I’ve talked my what the future will look like, I haven’t, to this date, shared a statement of beliefs that drive my work, theory, and practice. Until now.

Following is my statement of beliefs.

1. The roles of all young people must transform in order to meet the needs of the present and the demands of the future.
2. Every young person in our society is inherently discriminated against because of their age.
3. A drastic change of consciousness is required in every person’s mind in order to facilitate the large scale social transformations I advocate for.
4. The most relevant socio-political design for this work is radical democracy, which will materialize only through nonviolent direct action.
5. This revolution is an evolution of the mind that is inherently rooted in individual-level, grassroots transformation. At home, in neighborhoods, throughout families, and across succeeding generations all people must take personal responsibility for their relationships with children and youth, as fellow young people and as adults.
6. Most democratic societies around the world today are representative; I am calling for a modified form of direct democracy which allows for every individual to have substantive and meaningful roles throughout their lives.
7. My focus on drastic, full-scale social transformation necessitates the inclusion of the structural components of social functioning, including the government. Young people should be fully enfranchised through the mechanism of the law as full humans with all the rights and responsibilities afforded to anyone simply because of their humanity.
8. In addition to extending the recognition of the basic human rights and responsibilities of young people, I believe all governments should acknowledge the particular rights that all children and youth should have simply because they are young. These rights should focus on protection and empowerment, with neither falsely negating the other.
9. All public institutions of governance, education, and so forth should be made capable, held responsible, and made accountable for the complete integration of young people throughout their operations.
10. My beliefs necessitate the immediate, focused, and deliberate action of myself, and my continued engagement of young people and adults who ally and align themselves with my beliefs. We must continue to personally and professionally take up any and all opportunities to promote the evolution of society through the enactment of these beliefs in any and all forms, every single day in every single way for all people in all communities around the world.

I invite your feedback to this statement, and I continue to look forward to my life’s work. Thank you for joining me in it, however you do.

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

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

The Challenge of Challenge

When met with something that we disagree with, we all have different ways of dealing with the challenges we face. Sometimes we confront; sometimes, withdraw; other times, we might stand in the challenge and simply acknowledge it; and still other times we have no idea what’s going on, simply riding the whirlwind.

Tonight I’m attending the Rising Tide School auction here in my city of Olympia. Invited by co-founder Abbe Vogel, it’s truly my pleasure to be here tonight. There are at least 200 people here, including dozens of kids. It definitely shows the interest and commitment of a subgroup in this small city that wants alternative learning opportunities for students. Rising Tide operates the Sudbury Valley model, and they do it well.

A decade ago when I first learned of Sudbury Valley I was challenged by the model. Concerned about accessibility, democratic accountability, and socio-economic inequity, I routinely declared my abhorrence to privatized education of all kinds. Anything, charters, democratic schools, anything. I’m over that now.

That’s what a decade of this work has given me: the chance to reconvene my mental jury in order to examine, critique, and re-imagine my own vision for education. The challenge of challenge is accepting where we’re pushing ourselves to go. Note to self: Keep going.

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

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