“Education should not be the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a flame.”

– William Butler Yates

In the early 1800s it was common for non-enslaved Blacks in the United States to take the last name “Freeman” as a testimony to their freedom. Since that time young people have become bound by the ongoing structuring of society, through school, afterschool programs, church activities, and family life. These shared legacies led a group of Olympia-based youth activists and allies to create a new youth empowerment resource organization called The Freechild Project in April 2001.

Today, Freechild is an internationally-renowned advocacy organization. Our mission is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world. The organization serves as a not-for-profit learning space, think tank, resource center, and advocacy group that facilitates networking, training, resource-sharing, and technical assistance for young people and youth-serving organizations around the world. By establishing a network of local and national organizations Freechild has reached tens of thousands of young people and their adult allies around the world.

We have created dozens of unique publications, resource databases, and popular education workshops that promote children, youth, and adults working as equal partners in democratic social change. Freechild believes that as a collective body within a global community, children and youth around the world are subject to segregation, alienation, and injustice without parallel.

Further, as members of distinct ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups, many young people suffer unequalled oppression as the targets of genocide, hunger, and war. It is no wonder that in these times when the health of democracy is sacrificed for commercial gain and familial vendetta, many people find it hard to have hope.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the “World House,” it is almost certain that he didn’t intend for children and youth to inherit a decrepit house, slipped from its foundation, stripped of its siding, plastered with billboards, and crumbling apart inside. What is that slipped foundation upon which the World House is built? Is it a higher authority charged with morality and righteousness, or a man-made composite of economy and education, government and military?

The Freechild Project believes that it is Community, that common connection of diverse people for a collective purpose. The citizens of modern communities tend to neglect or deny that collective purpose; worse still, many people deny that young people have any purpose at all. Popular culture seems to exacerbate this situation repeatedly by constantly railing against youth. While corporate marketing to children and youth infiltrates every facet of our culture, movies simultaneously glamorize and degrade the collective image of young people today.

Two recent books summarize young people today as The Scapegoat Generation, and as “The Abandoned Generation,” while a popular website portrays them as a shapeless, placeless, and an unknowable “Fluid Generation.”

In the early 1800s it was common for non-enslaved Blacks in the United States to take the last name “Freeman” as a testimony to their freedom. Since that time young people have become bound by the ongoing structuring of society, through school, afterschool programs, church activities, and family life. These shared legacies led a group of Olympia-based youth activists and allies to create a new youth empowerment resource organization called The Freechild Project in April 2001.

Other culprits to perpetuating negative stereotypes about youth include politicians and government officials who continually attempt to pin vandalism, loitering, and other crime on young people. It is ironic that this demonization actually benefits, and is sometimes perpetuated by, the very nonprofit agencies that purport to provide prevention and intervention programs for young people. Finally, in this period of federally-mandated and locally-supported standardized testing, it is of little surprise that children and youth themselves are often blamed for the failures of the education system. This, despite the reality that most students never have the actual opportunity to make significant decisions or advocate for what is important to themselves in schools.

In his last book before he was assassinated, Dr. King, wrote, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

I truly believe we’re standing on the edge of one of those great periods.

Activists, educators, youth workers, young people, and all people must stay awake and vigilant to the challenges facing society today. The need to strengthen democracy has never been greater, and the resources have never been so limited. Communities can no longer afford to ignore the power of children and youth, either morally or fiscally. As Henry Giroux writes,

“The stakes have never been so high and the future so dark.”

Young people provide light in that darkness – let’s encourage their flames to grow.

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Published by Adam

Adam F. C. Fletcher helps organizations engage people more successfully. Contact him by calling (360) 489-9680 or emailing info@adamfletcher.net.

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