Going to Pittsburg

Adam Fletcher speaking to a group of youth in 2014.
Adam Fletcher speaking to a group of youth in 2014.
I’m going to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania next month! The Allegheny County United Way is bringing me in to speak at their bi-annual afterschool gathering, the APOST Conference. I will be on the scene throughout the day, presenting a keynote and a workshop for participants, as well as providing consulting throughout the day.


Presented in the first part of the APOST Conference, I will do a keynote called Engage ALL Youth, Everywhere, ALL the Time! In my description I wrote, “For a long time, the most engaged youth seemed predictable: They were successful, they were connected, and they made adults happy. Today, the picture is a lot different.” 

I will focus audience members on the ways youth engagement is expanding, and how important it is to recognize where youth are engaged right now. Using stories, humor, and examples from my 20 plus years experience and research, I plan to engage the audience themselves, will helping them learn practical, meaningful, and powerful ways to engage all youth, everywhere, all the time!

This is Adam Fletcher speaking in 2014.
Adam Fletcher speaking at a conference in Bellevue, Washington, in 2014.

In the second part of the APOST Conference, I’m presenting a workshop called 5 Steps to Youth Engagement. Writing about it, I said, “Evaluators say it is a science and seasoned youth workers say it is an art. No matter which perspective you have, everyone admits it is a little of both.” I will use this workshop to look at some the key questions in youth engagement: What is youth engagement, What gets youth engaged, and What gets organizations real outcomes?

In 5 Steps to Youth Engagement, my workshop participants will explore some of the gray areas of youth engagement, like how to engage youth without spending money, the difference between youth participation and youth engagement, and how to engage someone repeatedly without burn out. We will also address how to stop youth disengagement, how to understand the rules of youth engagement, and how to engage adults in engaging young people. Participants will leave with practical action they can use right away.
Learn more about the APOST Conference and join me this year by visiting the APOST Conference website today!

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.

Measure of Intergenerational Community Engagement (MICE Model)

The Measure of Intergenerational Community Engagement, aka the MICE Model, is a tool I developed for The Freechild Project. After working with intergenerational groups for more than a decade, I found it increasingly necessary to explain intermediary steps an organization could align themselves with while seeking to engage youth and adults as partners.

As it evolved, the tool took a life of its own. Ultimately, it has become a wonderful piece for participants to reflect, consider, and grow youth engagement. It can be used in any setting where young people could work with adults.

Let me know what you think of my MICE Model in the comments below! Thanks!

Youth Engagement Tips

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Working with more groups around the world has caused me to constantly revise and refine my processes. The following thoughts were shared with me by a group of youth as advice to adults who want to successfully engage youth. We can all strive to use them as guidelines in youth engagement work.

Youth Engagement Tips

  1. Make room for youth to talk first. Adults often feel compelled to start conversations or answer questions first. Let youth talk first.
  2. Do not force youth to talk. Sometimes you don’t have things to say. Sometimes youth don’t have things to say. Don’t try to force anyone to talk, and just sit in uncomfortable silence if you have to. 
  3. Remember one youth doesn’t represent all youth. All youth are individuals with their own perspectives, backgrounds, and realities. Youth aren’t all the same.
  4. It is okay to not know everything, even if you’re an adult. It is okay to be uncertain, express doubt, and ask questions. It is also okay to believe youth.
  5. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable with youth. If we’re talking about things that cause you discomfort, don’t make us change the conversation. Be uncomfortable.
  6. Speak your truth to youth. Don’t hide behind titles, age, positions, degrees, or other appearances. Tell us what you know and have done, and be human.
  7. Listen for understanding, not affirmation. Sometimes youth won’t support your conclusions and decisions, and that’s okay.
  8. Do not try to “fix” youth—they aren’t broken. Young people can come from broken homes or depressed communities, be incarcerated or homeless, but they’re not broken. They are whole people; treat them that way.
  9. Take appropriate risks when you’re talking with youth. Challenge yourself to stay engaged with young people exactly as they are right now, instead of making them come to where you’re at.
  10. Avoid just listening to youth voice. Take action. 

 

What else would you add? Where can this page grow or change? Leave your comments below!

Youth Engagement Equalizer

Want to identify what skills you have that are good for engaging young people? Ready to learn where you can improve?

Here’s a snapshot of my Youth Engagement Equalizer, a tool that I developed to challenge youth workers and others on how successful they can be at their jobs.

I want to share it with you for FREE! Just contact me.

Contact me for a copy of the Youth Engagement Equalizer at http://adamfletcher.net/contact-me/
The Youth Engagement Equalizer is FREE! Just contact me at http://adamfletcher.net/contact-me/

 

 

Cultural Appropriation & Youth Voice

photos for posterThe other day, my 10-year-old daughter and I went out to dinner.

We were sitting in a booth at a Mexican restaurant downtown, and out of nowhere she asks what makes it okay for people in the US to make Mexican food. I asked her what she meant, and she asks what makes it okay for people who aren’t Mexican to make or eat Mexican food. She said, “Isn’t it theirs?”

So we talked about how people take things with them wherever they go, and sometimes, people from other places come to some places and take things with them when they go. I explained appropriation to her, and she asked about things like clothes and all that.

Developmentally speaking, starting around age 3-4 kids develop an acute awareness of fairness, and I think this was her application of her understanding across a complex situation. Funny to remember all the people in college I knew who were still wrestling with that concept. I guess I still do, too, some days.

Reflecting on it more, I wrestle with the relationship of cultural appropriation and youth voice. How do you think they tie together?

Adult-Driven Youth Voice

Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, all the time, about anything. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever young people are. The question generally is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

If a young person is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing youth voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities. However, young people who cut themselves are sharing youth voice, just like youth graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing youth voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven youth voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Youth Voice

Adult-Driven Youth Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make youth voice become convenient for adults. Adult-Driven Youth Voice is Convenient Youth Voice. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven youth voice.

  • WHO: Youth who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All young people are members of all the communities they occupy, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven youth voice selects specific young people who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share youth voice.
  • WHAT: Young people say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what young people have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for youth. Young people are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when children or youth want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Youth voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for youth to share their opinions about something, youth voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit youth voice about specific issues. Young people have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for young people. If young people move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with youth voice.

Special thanks to my spectacular friend and longtime comrade Heather Manchester. Her critical thinking and willingness to kick my butt inspired this post (and many others!) and I stand indebted to her genius, patience, and energy she shares with me.

 

My Youth Council Days

In fall of 1992, I was a 17-year-old struggling through high school, living in the hood, and loving the life I lived. It was an exciting time packed with nerve-wracking moments that were smoothed over by a caring family, good mentors, and great friends.

I grew up in a predominantly low income, African American neighborhood in the Midwest. My family scraped along to get by, but with both my parents at home we were the anomaly. Our neighborhood fit a lot of stereotypes piped out by the mainstream media. It was referred to as a “depressed community”, and every night during the summer there seemed to be a drive-by somewhere around my block. I was jumped many times, and the number of times cops showed up and left from Kenny’s crack house down the street is uncountable. Everyone who was young seemed to be in a gang, and everyone who was old seemed scared.

Whenever I had a chance to do an activity that brought me out of that neighborhood, I took it. The year before, I became involved in starting a district youth council for the United Methodist churches. Run by a young minister from the other side of the city, I began driving to churches around the area to be on this youth council. It was an exciting thing for me personally, if only because I got to create and share and do things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

That year, in 1992, I was given a booklet about starting a neighborhood youth council. Skimming through it, I decided my neighborhood needed one. I went to the church’s minister and asked him if we could pull it together and he agreed.

In a few weeks, I had twenty adults and youth in the same room. We were there under the premise that programs that served youth in our neighborhood could do even better by working together. For an hour we talked about what we did, listening to someone running a basketball team, a youth employment program focused on cooking, the food bank coordinator, an afterschool program worker, a VISTA serving in the neighborhood, and a few other people.

The youth in the room were friends of mine, and we all talked. One guy shared ideas, another reflected on how things were going in his life.

After everyone finished talking, we talked about when people worked and which individual children and youth they worked with. After an hour zoomed by, we left and everyone filed out.

For eight more meetings after that, we talked about what folks were doing and where they were doing it. There were conversations about getting more money for programs, more resources for kids and their families, and conversations about the things that were happening throughout our neighborhood. Some people were aware of the gossip while others focused on the newspapers. But everyone brought something to the table. I was proud to be able to lead the conversations.

By the end of that school year, I turned 18 and graduated from high school. The neighborhood youth council was over, and in the two more years I lived in the hood, it never met again.

From that experience, I learned the basics of collaboration. I studied the movements and ideals of the individuals at the table, and heard the stories and realities of the young people in our programs and lives. I learned to see the kids that came and went through all these programs as individuals with their own individual wants, needs, and dreams. Mostly, I learned to see my neighbors.

Since 1992, I’ve been involved with dozens of youth councils nationwide, and I’ve staffed two others at the state and national levels. Early in January 2014, I’m going to launch a new regional youth council for the Pacific Mountain region in Washington State. Its going to be exciting, for sure. But I’ll definitely draw on my own experience in order to best navigate the waters we’ll wade into.

What was your first experience with a youth council?

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

The Future of Youth Engagement

Society evolves. As young people and communities grow, there are more opportunities for youth engagement than ever before – and more opportunities for youth to become disengaged, too. More sophisticated usages of technology, transformed processes, and varying thresholds for what engages young people have to be acknowledged all the time. This happens from generation to generation and across different communities for all kinds of reasons.

Youth engagement happens, no matter what. Adults may not like what it focuses on or how it happens, but it happens.

Here are three ways that youth engagement will happen in the future:

  1. Subjective relationships—If adults want to continue to expose them to specific issues and activities, or seek particular outcomes from youth engagement, it will be necessary for them to adapt and transform their approaches. 
  2. Equal relationships—Another way is for adults to decide to value the things that young people engage in on their own volition. These youth engagement approaches entail adults meeting young people where they are currently, rather than insist that children and youth come to where adults want them to be in the future. 
  3. Equitable relationships—The middle ground between these two approaches to youth engagement requires active evolution and transformation. It requires that adults learn to see young children and youth as equitable partners in their work, and to treat them accordingly. 

Luckily, no matter which approach adults choose, youth engagement will continue to exist in the individual lives of young people, where they see fit and how they see fit. The sustained connections that young people make will never be solely dependent on technology, and youth engagement will never rely solely on government agencies either, or nonprofits, faith communities, schools, or other specific spheres and systems explored above.


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