Why Should We Engage Kids of Privilege?

Why should we try to engage young people who have everything they need already? For a lot of the time I was growing up my family struggled to meet it’s basic needs, and although we usually had food, water, shelter and clothes, there were days and weeks where we went without. As I’m growing older and my socio-economic status is changing though, I’m finding myself increasingly surrounded by young people who grow up without want for toys, let alone basic needs. Why do these youth need any of my energy?

In a society that relies on social inequities in order to perpetuate negative economic patterns, there is no apparent end to the oppression faced by the disenfranchised. I am under no illusion that there are grave inequities and there are apparently frivolous injustices; however, in a world with limited time and ability to affect the great numbers with a message of hope and ability, we must start anywhere and go everywhere. With that thinking I believe that the work of enriching the lives of young people of privilege gains value, as long as it’s rooted in building consciousness and ability towards fighting oppression. All young people regardless of socio-economic background need to learn about the oppressive forces they perpetuate and suffer under; whether this focuses on racial, gender, age, economic, sexual orientation or other inequities, everyone needs to learn the realities that face us in this world. In learning the realities that face others and identifying the roots of the situations they find themselves in everyday, young people of privilege can become allies in the struggle against oppression, and grow in their ability to sympathize rather than pity those who are different than them. Dr. King once wrote,

“True altruism is more than the capacity to pit; it is the capacity to sympathize. Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.”

As Dr. King frequently said, and folks like Paulo Freire, bell hooks and others continue to insist, we need a soulful revolution based in love. Building the capacity of all young people to engage in this work should be our mission. The question of how to engage these youth is for a different post; here I’m only trying to answer why we should. Share your thoughts…

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

Youth are Essential

“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” – Robert Kennedy

Our adultcentric society has a strange attitude towards youth as an ideal. On one hand we treat youth as a time of life in which a person is immature and saddled with the burdens of uncertainty, inability and incapacity. On the other hand we behave like youth is the only way to be, like Kennedy alluded to when he said the quote above. As adults we idolize the culture of youth, the perceived attitudes and the cultural reception of youth, with the imagery and attitudes of youth at the forefront.

This duality is dichotomous: we both scorn, belittle and repress at the same time we’re uplifting, savoring and idolizing youth. This phenomenon leads to all kinds of outcomes:

  • Voter registration campaigns pushing 18-year-olds into the booth at the local high school setting up tables next to lower-the-vote campaigns fighting the disenfranchisement of anyone under 18.
  • Bulletin boards for soda pop featuring African American youth at the same time the prison bus is driving underneath it, packed with African American youth.
  • Teachers urging students to take personal responsibility for their lives while teaching them from adult-driven curricula in which young people have no voice.
The list can go on and on. It is well past time that we address this apparent hypocrisy head-on through direct action and systems change. Organizations that serve youth need to work with youth, not for them. Parents that respect their kids need to connect with their kids, not to their kids. Systems that want powerful outcomes for young people must stop incapacitating their constituents by supporting direct services that are ineffectual from their basic design because of the absence of youth involvement. 

Dr. King wrote a sermon around the time of the Montgomery bus protests in which he said, 

“Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live.”

We must lose the cowardice, timidity and incapability we have as advocates and make the case that YOUTH, both as an ideal and as a real time of life, is essential to the success of our society. Only then will we begin to find a course of success for this movement.

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

4 Myths About Youth Voice

It is great to sit in a room of allies and people who “get it”, but most people work in high pressure environments where Youth Voice seems quaint or non-essential. Following are some myths and realities for people who want to think “outside the box”.

MYTH #1: Youth Voice sounds good on paper, but my school/program/ organization/community/region/ agency/situation is different.

REALITY: While it is true that each community is different, Youth Voice is always present, whether or not it is utilized. It is important to remember that what works immediately and effectively in one may not have the same results in another; however, that is why every community needs to make its own space for Youth Voice. By recognizing the desperate necessity of engaging young people, all kinds of communities can benefit. Community groups, organizations, schools, and neighborhoods across Washington are relying on Youth Voice because young people are relying on them. Start by engaging young people in small and doable tasks, and work your way into larger projects over time. Eventually your community will have a successfully customized strategy for Youth Voice.

MYTH #2: Youth Voice is all about youth.

REALITY: Youth Voice cannot ever be “all about youth.” Without recognizing a larger community around them, young people and adult allies cannot call for Youth Voice. By specifically engaging young people, communities recognize Youth Voice as being about more than young people. Youth Voice is about children, youth, and adults working in common – together. Youth Voice is about communities and democracy, and other people.

MYTH #3: We only need to focus on Youth Voice when there are problems to deal with.

REALITY: Anyone who works with communities needs Youth Voice everyday to keep them honest, connected, effective, and realistic. And let’s face it – our communities have never existed without challenges – perhaps that is because we keep waiting to engage young people. Young people can contribute to everyday projects as well as crisis intervention.

MYTH #4: It is too hard to engage young people when I can just do the work myself.

REALITY: Any seasoned Youth Voice practitioner will tell you that it is an everyday challenge to engage young people. However, there are everyday rewards as well: adults feel more satisfaction about their jobs, that organizations become more successful meeting their missions, and that youth feel more connected to the world around them. Young people are also resources in and of themselves: our communities cannot afford to deny the abilities they possess any longer, and with their seemingly boundless capacity to contribute, children and youth may be our state’s most sustainable, renewable energy source!

Originally published in the Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolbox copyright 2009 Adam Fletcher. All rights reserved.

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

Seeking Passionate Young Activists!

Forwarded by request:

If you are a high school senior committed to activism and defending civil liberties in your community, then we have an opportunity for you: the ACLU is now accepting applications for the 2010 ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship Program. For those of you who don’t know the ACLU, they are our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee to everyone in this country.

Now more than ever, young people around the country are taking a stand for their rights, as well as the rights of their peers. Despite the adversity they face in their efforts, these passionate young leaders refuse to back down! Every year, the ACLU honors and celebrates these civil libertarians through an opportunity to participate in the Youth Activist Scholarship Program.

In this year’s program, 15 high school seniors will win a $7,000 scholarship towards their first year in college. Scholarship recipients will also attend the “Youth Activist Institute” at the ACLU National office in New York City, where they will hone their activism and leadership skills and learn about civil liberties directly from the ACLU staff. The program is a great opportunity for young leaders to meet other activists from around the country and be recognized for their accomplishments!

Check out the ACLU National website, where you can find more scholarship information and read about last year’s scholarship winners and their remarkable achievements towards civil liberties, tolerance, free speech, and equality.

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

My Review of “Beyond Resistance”

Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth was edited by Shawn Ginwright. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

For youth workers with a preconceived notion about the roles of young people in society, this collection may be challenging. For teachers who think they know the power of students, Ginwright may be shocking. For young people who think they understanding “the movement”, this book may be eye-opening.

Ginwright collects dozens of the best examples of youth-led and youth-driven activism and refines them to their finest points, charging the reader to do more than complain about apathy or revel in cynicism. He leaves us no choice other than getting up to do something. Thanks Shawn – we need that. This book is an incredible read for anyone interested in the movement at any level.

Before this book the reader might want to see Global Uprising : Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century : Stories from a New Generation of Activists; after it you might want to reference Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States.


Order Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth.

If They Swallow This…

“If they swallow this… ‘Empowermints’ – The tasty treat with a catchy name but no real content! Give them to your workers in place of raises, benefits, and respect.”
Let’s think about the implications of “youth empowerment”, that tired cliche we try to avoid by using phrases like “youth involvement”, “youth voice”, “youth engagement” and “youth activism”. Individually this phrasing may serve its purpose, depending on the level of understanding each practitioner has when they use it. However, as a body politik does the usage of these phrases mean anything more than youth empowerment? Particularly to young people themselves and unknowledgable adults? Or is there a better language out there? We must keep examining these assumptions.
RIP Northland Poster Collective, my favorite source for radically democratic marketing items for the last 10 years. Ricardo has taught me a lot, and their art inspires me. I encourage you to support their final days, and applaud Northland for being what its been. Thank you!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

14 Standards for Youth Voice

“Standardization” is a scary word. Community-based youth workers often see it as the bain of the personalized and human effect they have with young people. However, standards can allow programs to aspire to more than the norm, more than intuition. Standards for Youth Voice may allow programs and organizations to:
  • Increase the effectiveness of their Youth Voice programs; 
  • Allow evaluation, assessment and research data from Youth Voice programs to be used across different settings; 
  • Expand choices for program planners
  • Enable organizations with similar programs to align according to stated interests and  desired outcomes; 
  • Encourage information-sharing among similarly-focused programs and organizations that otherwise compete for similar funding or young peoples’ participation;
  • Provides a benchmark for program and activity design;
  • Allows organizational leaders to identify which skills and what knowledge currently exist and which are in need within an organization in order to meet standards.
There have been few standards proposed for Youth Voice. Past efforts have often glossed over specific issues that affect young people and their communities everyday by being too vague, or too specific. Maybe that is the fault of taking a standarized approach. Working with young people and adults across the country over the last 10 years I have had repeated conversations about what these standards can look like. Following are 14 Standards for Youth Voice I am proposing.
  1. Youth Voice should be defined as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.
  2. Engaging Youth Voice requires being aware, acknowledging, and infusing diversity throughout every activity.
  3. First and foremost, Youth Voice is a tool to build democracy; learning, empowerment, engagement, and other outcomes are consequences of that focus.
  4. Not engaging Youth Voice is active discrimination against youth  and is not always a wrong, bad, or incorrect thing to do.
  5. Community problems should be addressed by communities, and not foisted on the shoulders of young people working alone.
  6. It is essential to engage Youth Voice in issues broader than those that only affect young people.
  7. Youth Voice already addresses a broad range of issues throughout our communities, and it is vital to acknowledge those current contributions.
  8. Young people have the same rights as adults to make their hopes, fears, dreams, and realities known to society.
  9. Youth Voice is the one bond that unites all young people throughout our society and around the world.
  10. The transience of youth is a foundation to be built upon, not a whim to be dismissed.
  11. Communities have different needs that can and should be addressed by and through Youth Voice.
  12. Young people and adults must build their personal capacity to engage and sustain Youth Voice.
  13. Every public institution in society is morally responsible for developing their structural capacity to engage and sustain Youth Voice.
  14. Youth Voice is an action that requires young people to speak by doing, and adults to speak by listening.
Standards can allow us to create more than a movement for Youth Voice; instead, they give us a foundation for establishing an entire field of practice. What do you think?
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Access = Empowerment

There are adults in our society who insist on deciding what, how, when, where, why and who young people can access. Questions like this seems to plague their minds:

  • Who does my child hang around with?
  • What should my students read?
  • When can I tell her the truth?
  • Why would they possibly want to know?
  • Where are those little punks?
  • How could they?!?
And so forth. These adults are considered with every issue that affects youth, and in every sector of almost every young person’s life. Luckily, there is growing recognition that when young people have access to information they can change their own lives, the lives of others, and the whole wide world. Here are some examples regarding birth control, school reform, and public health
We have to pull back the curtains and show young people the reality. Must.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth Voice: A Right or Responsibility?

Young people, working with adults as partners, have the ability and capacity to cure the world of all of its ills. Sickness, famine, poverty, war, environmental catastrophe and economic meltdown can all be answered by the energy, idealism, knowledge, power, and wisdom of children and youth. Nothing is over the heads, hearts or hands of young people today, and they demonstrate that everyday in the ways they are living their lives.

Youth Voice is the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society. It is this voice taken through the Cycle of Youth Engagement that answers the challenges of society every single day. So my question is whether Youth Voice is a right or a responsibility. In a time when every single issue feels glaring and the planet is apparently at a tipping point do the adult allies of young people have any alternative than to engage young people in working towards transforming this grand clustermess? By not engaging them are we being more than unresponsive– are we actually being irresponsible? 

Moreso, with that state of the times in mind, is Youth Voice a right or a responsibility? I would argue that our society can no longer wait for children and youth to wait for us, the adults who are taking our time getting to them to engage their voices. This may be foisting an undue amount of responsibility on the shoulders of the young, but honestly, aren’t we doing that already by ignoring the major issues awaiting them as adults? 
These are some of the major issues entwined in Youth Voice, ones that go beyond the generalized and unsophisticated conversations we’ve been having for the last 10 years I’ve been in the this national movement. Its time to crack this egg open.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!