Finding Myself

This retreat weekend has been a train-the-trainer event for a program called Generation WakingUp. The program is focused on helping young people identify their investment in changing the world, and providing them with tools to take immediate action. The training is very wholistic and affords great motivation for participants.

Over the course of the last six months I’ve had the good fortune to invest a great deal of time to finding myself. In the busyness and energy of the last decade, I found my concept of who I am drifting from my best knowledge of who I am. Circumstance and influence drove me to focus on money-making, and unaddressed childhood experiences both imposed themselves loudly in my days. I veered and swerved there for a while, but with good encouragement from the universe I found amazing avenues for embracing my challenges and today I’m finding it easier to simply be me.

This weekend has allowed me the expensive space to simply be: To be me, to be here, and to be now. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that Adam’s a great guy in all his myriad ways. That’s my reflection from this morning.

— 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!

Sharing This Space

Today is the third and last day of the Generation WakingUp gathering in Seattle. I’ve enjoyed all of it, for the first time in my adult life participating- not facilitating- in something with my unabashedly full self. It really is a beautiful day.

One of the components of meaningful youth involvement I’ve routinely neglected in my work has been the spaces, environments, and climates we need to cultivate in order to successfully engage young people. Those spaces vary according to who is in the room, what the activities are, and what the intended outcomes are going to be.

It’s been exciting for me here at Generation WakingUp to feel the successful revealing of the climate we’re engaged in as co-learners. All of the markers of a good Pacific Northwest gathering are here, including the music, banners, and African drums. But environment goes beyond “stuff”: through careful design and substantial nurturing, the training design allows participants to enter themselves into the fray, effectively drawing out very personal contributions to the whole, engendering that sense of community among participants in a wonderful way.

I stayed here for an hour last night in a rather inspired beatbox battle with another guy named Adam. It was fun, it was freeing, and for what feels like the first time in a long time, I am me, fully and wholly. I want to share this space with you!

— 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!

It’s the Arrival

It’s the start of Day 2 of the Generation WakingUp event in Seattle, and the sun is pouring into this yoga loft in Lake Union. I woke early and excited, and sitting here I know why. Already this morning when I was texting with my friend and ally Adrienne I came across the idea of doing an intro youth activist training in Olympia.

Inside these special bubbles of location and occupation I think that we take activist energy for granted sometimes. Recently I’ve forgotten that it takes that initial spark, that firestarting that I used to burn for. This event reminds me that is integral as I watch a legion of young activists coming into their own understandings of what this work can mean in their own lives. A difference in my pedagogy is that my work is centered on social action, and taking initiative to change the world as well as ourselves.

At the end of the day I believe that what matters is that folks, young and old, arrive at their own will in their own paces. Generation WakingUp is reminding me of that.

— 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!

Connections With Soul

For a long time I’ve skirted the topic of soul-full youth engagement work. Today I’m liveblogging from Generation WakingUp, a soul-oriented youth action training program that’s operating internationally, and this weekend in Seattle. I connected with Generation WakingUp through Joshua Gorman, who has connected with me a few times over the years as he participated in developing this program. It’s my honor to be here with him and the crew putting this together.

I’ve skirted this area because for a long time- more than a decade- I was resistant to making the connection inherent between soul and social change. However, being a student of Kingian philosophy and Gandhian practice, I’m well aware of the spiritual roots of all successful social change leaders throughout time. In the last several months I’ve become increasingly attuned to the soulside of this work, which today I openly acknowledge is my soulwork.

I’m excited, and a little nervous, for this weekend, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you through the blog. I’m dedicating this weekend as a gift to myself as I continue my journey into myself for the first time. I also carry the deep impact of the people who’ve spiritually influenced me over the years, including Helen, Edu, Jamie, Jim, and more recently, Heather, Victoria, Abby, Tanya, and Teddy. Hannah is always at the middle of my heart. My mom, dad, and sisters stay with me, too.

Stay tuned for more!

— 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!

Dream Big, Do Big

This is the second of my live blogs from Miami working with the Human Services Coalition (HSC) aka Catalyst Miami. Yesterday was a whirlwind day, filled with meetings and introductions, and simply reveling in the joy and strength of this movement for democracy building we’re in.

My day was led by a lot of cool people, folks doing the legwork at HSC who are powerfully energetic and driven. It was heralded, though, by Daniella Levine. Daniella is the whirling dervish ED of HSC, and is a force in this community. In one day I saw her tackle dozens of issues, all the while playing gracious hostess to me and strong leader to her staff. One of her strengths seems to be to dream big and do bigger- through a combination of determination and knowing how to rely on her people to get the job done.

This is the challenge of all my work: how, when and why do I rely on “reality”, or my perception thereof, to guide us? Too many times I’ve thought small when I could’ve been thinking large; other times I’ve lived macro when I should’ve been living micro!

I must’ve heard Daniella spin a dozen ideas yesterday, and watched her (apparently) single-handedly birth a few of them into reality. But it’s those “right people” around her that made all the difference. One idea that is happening is for a spectacular new program centered on youth engagement as a pillar of HSC. Just like that, they’re taking the organizational plunge into this work, powerfully, fully, and meaningfully. I look forward to watching this unfold with great effect!

Today is my workshop, so off I go. More later…

— 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!

Miami, Exceptionalism, and Integration

Today I’m live-blogging from Miami, where the Human Services Coalition of Miami-Dade County, aka Catalyst Miami, has brought me in to facilitate a day long seminar on Meaningful Youth Engagement. I arrived at the agency’s headquarters about a half hour ago, and it’s a typically powerful environment filled with busy, passionate people doing spectacularly important and vibrant work. From all indications so far, a focus on Meaningful Youth Engagement appears to fit well within Catalyst Miami’s programs. That they’re welcoming 150+ folks from dozens of agencies tomorrow speaks higher still of their capacity and commitment.

(Sidenote: I’m a little tired! Red-eye flights used to make so much sense to me; I’m rethinking that right now!)

In my next post I’ll share my agenda for the training. But for now, this thought will have to suffice: In talking with Dana Bennis from the Institute for Democratic Education in America last month, I (finally) crystalized my understanding about solely change-oriented engagement activities for youth: By creating special programs focused only on change we effectively except organizations and communities from normalizing youth engagement; we excuse ourselves from integrating young people into the leadership of the world we co-occupy with them.

My concern is that while this type of “exceptionalism” may be appropriate to meet the apparent developmental needs of youth, it doesn’t meet the less-obvious but equally important evolutionary requirements of young people. All children and youth inherently want to be actively integrated into the lifeblood of their families and communities. This is why they repel against tokenism so severely when they learn about it: Young people don’t want to be routinely segregated from adults.

So my question is whether youth-only programming focused on engagement is unquestionably self-defeating and ultimately ineffectual. I’m going to explore this tomorrow with my co-learners… Stay tuned for the results!

— 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!

Freedom’s Plow by Langston Hughes

Freedom’s Plow
When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.

First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.

The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.

A long time ago, but not too long ago,
Ships came from across the sea
Bringing the Pilgrims and prayer-makers,
Adventurers and booty seekers,
Free men and indentured servants,
Slave men and slave masters, all new-
To a new world, America!

With billowing sails the galleons came
Bringing men and dreams, women and dreams.
In little bands together,
Heart reaching out to heart,
Hand reaching out to hand,
They began to build our land.
Some were free hands
Seeking a greater freedom,
Some were indentured hands
Hoping to find their freedom,
Some were slave hands
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
But the word was there always:
Freedom.

Down into the earth went the plow
In the free hands and the slave hands,
In indentured hands and adventurous hands,
Turning the rich soil went the plow in many hands
That planted and harvested the food that fed
And the cotton that clothed America.
Clang against the trees went the ax into many hands
That hewed and shaped the rooftops of America.
Splash into the rivers and the seas went the boat-hulls
That moved and transported America.
Crack went the whips that drove the horses
Across the plains of America.
Free hands and slave hands,
Indentured hands, adventurous hands,
White hands and black hands
Held the plow handles,
Ax handles, hammer handles,
Launched the boats and whipped the horses
That fed and housed and moved America.
Thus together through labor,
All these hands made America.

Labor! Out of labor came villages
And the towns that grew cities.
Labor! Out of labor came the rowboats
And the sailboats and the steamboats,
Came the wagons, and the coaches,
Covered wagons, stage coaches,
Out of labor came the factories,
Came the foundries, came the railroads.
Came the marts and markets, shops and stores,
Came the mighty products moulded, manufactured,
Sold in shops, piled in warehouses,
Shipped the wide world over:
Out of labor-white hands and black hands-
Came the dream, the strength, the will,
And the way to build America.
Now it is Me here, and You there.
Now it’s Manhattan, Chicago,
Seattle, New Orleans,
Boston and El Paso-
Now it’s the U.S.A.

A long time ago, but not too long ago, a man said:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL–
ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR
WITH CERTAIN UNALIENABLE RIGHTS–
AMONG THESE LIFE, LIBERTY
AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
His name was Jefferson. There were slaves then,
But in their hearts the slaves believed him, too,
And silently too for granted
That what he said was also meant for them.
It was a long time ago,
But not so long ago at that, Lincoln said:
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN
WITHOUT THAT OTHER’S CONSENT.
There were slaves then, too,
But in their hearts the slaves knew
What he said must be meant for every human being-
Else it had no meaning for anyone.
Then a man said:
BETTER TO DIE FREE
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES
He was a colored man who had been a slave
But had run away to freedom.
And the slaves knew
What Frederick Douglass said was true.

With John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, Negroes died.
John Brown was hung.
Before the Civil War, days were dark,
And nobody knew for sure
When freedom would triumph
“Or if it would,” thought some.
But others new it had to triumph.
In those dark days of slavery,
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
The slaves made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
That song meant just what it said: Hold On!
Freedom will come!
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
Out of war it came, bloody and terrible!
But it came!
Some there were, as always,
Who doubted that the war would end right,
That the slaves would be free,
Or that the union would stand,
But now we know how it all came out.
Out of the darkest days for people and a nation,
We know now how it came out.
There was light when the battle clouds rolled away.
There was a great wooded land,
And men united as a nation.

America is a dream.
The poet says it was promises.
The people say it is promises-that will come true.
The people do not always say things out loud,
Nor write them down on paper.
The people often hold
Great thoughts in their deepest hearts
And sometimes only blunderingly express them,
Haltingly and stumblingly say them,
And faultily put them into practice.
The people do not always understand each other.
But there is, somewhere there,
Always the trying to understand,
And the trying to say,
“You are a man. Together we are building our land.”

America!
Land created in common,
Dream nourished in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don’t be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don’t be weary, soldier!
The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN
WITHOUT HIS CONSENT.
BETTER DIE FREE,
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES.
Who said those things? Americans!
Who owns those words? America!
Who is America? You, me!
We are America!
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO!
To the enemy who would divide
And conquer us from within,
We say, NO!
FREEDOM!
BROTHERHOOD!
DEMOCRACY!
To all the enemies of these great words:
We say, NO!

A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!

– Langston Hughes

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

It’s Too Different!

A lot of people in our field of work are put off by military culture. The command and control structure of the armed forces are repelling to people who treasure autonomy, to say the least. Today I’m presenting some sessions at the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, and I’m wrestling.

This program reaches 1000s of youth nationwide who dropout of school and apparently don’t have future plans. These are generally young men and women between 16 and 18 who don’t have rapsheets, aren’t drug-involved, and have left school before graduating. Many youth programs are set up for these youth by community-based nonprofits and churches; however, none are as well funded or culturally driven as ChalleNGe. 200,000 youth have participated in the last 20 years; 50% of them earn their diplomas.

The culture of this space is rarified in positive youth development programs, which is one core value of ChalleNGe. Thoroughly quasi-militaristic, there’s a high premium on machismo and strength. Young people participate in a regimented program for several months, and respond to a command structure echoing the military.

What does this mean for youth engagement? With the roles of self-determination and full partnership factoring so heavily in youth engagement, is the work of ChalleNGe inherently antithetical to developing the emotional bonds necessary for engagement? My older brother felt an emotional bond towards the Marines after he dropped out of high school and joined. He was surely engaged.

Right now I’m wondering whether there’s a cultural norm at work here. Raised with the expectation that military culture can limit negative behaviors and liberate ones self from self-destructive actions, many youth don’t see that they can be critical to their communities. This program imposes that upon it’s participants, and for that I respect it.

However, when Dr King called for an army of nonviolent soldiers he didn’t have this in mind. Instead, he envisioned highly-disciplined, highly-capable young people committed not to themselves but to the communities they belong to and the families they come from. This is what we should each arrive for in our work, abs nothing less.

I’m going to let the ChalleNGe program inspire me to engage more youth more effectively at this point in their lives, so as to provide a clear alternative to quasi-military activities, and get closer to that nonviolent army.

— 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!

Social Stigmas

I am not satisfied with simply dismissing adultism as “social stigma,” nor do I believe that anytime a young person is discriminated against it is inherently adultism. Remember that I define adultism as the addiction our society has to the ideas, actions, and words of adults.

Sitting in another airport somewhere in America, I just watched an instance involving several younger people being blatantly ignored then turned away by a gate worker, for no apparent reason. In the past I might’ve been tempted to label this adultism and turn away from it; today I know differently. I could break this down along from many angles, including thoughts along the lines of privilege and climate.

Social class driven cultural norms, including clothing, speech, and manuerisms informed the communication between these parties. Perceptions of bias and discrimination are real for those experiencing them; however, prejudice needs to be named correctly in order to be addressed effectively.

Naming oppressions and social stigmas effectively are the keys to successfully changing society. Let’s use them to open the door to let everyone in.

— 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!

Evolving Youth Engagment

Engaging young people throughout society is a constantly evolving practice that requires consistently engaging the critical perspectives of children, youth, and adult allies. It also requires that anyone committed to youth engagement stay committed to re-inventing their approaches to youth engagement, as young people themselves constantly evolve. This means acknowledged that worked in 2008 won’t work in 2010, let alone using what happened in 1998! And I’m talking about every place that wants young people to be engaged, including at home, in schools, at our community programs, and in our national efforts.

Adults struggle with this reality, as we seem to treasure sameness and familiarity as we grow older. We want the consistency and commonness of our youth, where homogenization ruled. That doesn’t work anymore, and will work even less in the future. We rely on the fixtures of our studies and practices from the past, looking to “research-proven” examples to guide our well-meaning intentions, instead of acknowledging the variations, demolitions, and re-imaginations of youth today. 

There can be a danger to constant evolution: failure, temporary-ness, and non-sustainability are the hallmarks of radically re-invention in many, many examples. However, it is absolutely vital that we dream bigger, better dreams and get beyond what we think we know will work. Evolution.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!