Enough Rope To…

What does it mean when youth voice programs send young people into situations where we know there are hostile adults or complex problems that need preparations that young people don’t have?

Recently a close friend told me about a situation where her brother had the opportunity to speak in front of the city council about homeless and foster youth, which he had experienced. Rather than his program spending any time preparing him to speak strategically about his experience they let him go and talk. You know, they patted him on the back when he went up and said, “Good job!” when he was done – but honestly, he flew off the handle. Scrambling around his emotional landscape this young advocate poured his life’s experience on the floor. For some reason the program that brought him trusted that to be enough for him to have a positive experience, and they trusted the city council enough to make sense of his testimony and let it inform their decision-making.

I would wager that the city council was dismissive of him, at best. Its relatively easy to simply listen to youth voice, and then congratulate ourselves for that effort. Rather we need mechanisms in place that ensure the engagement of adults and youth in response to those voices. That’s what I try to illustrate in my Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement – I just don’t know if I succeed.

Oftentimes I fall back on the metaphor of the 16-year-old and the keys to the car: We don’t just give a youth who wants to drive the keys and allow them to barrel down the Interstate at 75 miles an hour, and we shouldn’t do that with youth voice, either. Unfortunately I’m afraid that is also an excuse to simply dismiss youth involvement as needing too much work, but hey…

Let’s stop handing out just enough rope for young people to become sacrifices on the alter of youth voice. We have an obligation to do more than that.

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Youth 2 Youth Forum

I wanted to let you all know about a powerful example that we should all follow in our local communities. Simply reading the announcement, you can see young people working with adults to make youth voice heard and active. That’s powerful. If you’re in NYC, go to this event and let me know what you think!

The Youth 2 Youth forum will offer diverse youth aged 14-21 from across New York City the opportunity to connect, speak out and take action to make a difference in their schools and communities. Networking and workshops followed by performances and open mic. Food and drinks will be served. The forum will offer both immigrant and non-immigrant youth an opportunity to connect, speak out and take action on the issues facing their communities. Registration is required for organizations wishing to table or take part in the performances or open mic, and space is limited. The forum is sponsored by the New York Immigration Coalition, Union Settlement, the Coalition for Asian-American Children & Families, the New York State Youth Leadership Council and United Neighborhood Houses.

For more information please contact Sasha Chavkin as civic@thenyic.org

Youth 2 Youth Forum
Friday, November 16th 5:00-10:00pm
Washington Community Center, 1775 3rd Ave and 98th St.

CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

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