The Time for Youth Engagement is NOW

Its time to get real about youth engagement. Faced with hard times, we need to speak truth to power. This post is my attempt to acknowledge the obvious.

Reading the news lately, its easy to get hopeless if you’re not careful. Federal and state budgets for essential services affecting children and youth are getting slashed, youth violence seems like its soaring across the nation, and local governments having to tighten their belts at every corner. Times continue to be tough for a lot of people.

As my mentor Henry Giroux is so deft at demonstrating, young people are especially targeted right now. In communities all over, children and youth are losing essential services built up over the last quarter century and more. Nonprofits, government agencies, and schools are cutting programs focused on every area effecting young people, including education, cultural programs, health education, recreation, and so many other issues. As you already know, they’re getting slashed all over the place.
Along with that, young people are being targeted as criminals, consumers, and incapable as never before- and especially youth of color and low-income youth. Put on tracks that send them to prison, treated like threats to adults’ way of life, and unable to find jobs after graduating from school, young people are tracked to hopelessness and inability more than ever before.

In my work, I have traveled the country consulting different organizations to encourage best practices focused on youth engagement. We have to engage and re-engage young people in democracy. This must be central to the purpose of ALL nonprofits, schools, foundations, and government agencies, and if its not, then these organizations are NOT on the side of young people or democracy.

Like never before, I’m seeing the outcomes of the economic realities facing nonprofits. Programs that powerfully transformed entire communities are gone, while others have been radically transformed to ensure their funding continues. In other cases, whole organizations have ceased to exist entirely. I have personally known these organizations to powerfully impact people, places, and the cultures they operated within. However, that’s no excuse for them backing out of democracy.
Research is showing that these cuts are disproportionately affecting young people from communities of color and low-income children and youth the most. In neighborhoods that were already depressed and within families that were already struggling, African-American, Latino/Hispanic, and other non-white young people are facing fewer prospects for a hopeful future than ever before. The same goes for poor and working class families too.

It’s an understatement to say that these are tough times! More than ever before, our young people need us and the work we do. Youth engagement activities are facing increased scrutiny to do complex work with meager budgets; providers are expected to live on less money while taking on increased responsibilities for other peoples’ children; communities are being abandoned when they need us the most.

HOWEVER, we can rise to the challenge! WE MUST. These are the days when we need to get real about youth engagement programs and the effects they have on our communities. Simply put, when they’re focused on democracy-building, youth engagement activities are essential for the health and well-being for all communities today. Whether in high income or low-income neighborhoods, nonprofit or government agencies, or on the weekends or in the summer, all youth engagement activities are an absolute necessity for the success of any community.

Youth engagement advocates must work together as never before to create community-wide networks to promote this reality. By joining, fostering, and sustaining robust, responsive coalitions like the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre, organizations and programs across the country can contribute and ensure not only their own existence, but support others’ too. I work with a number of these types of coalitions across the country, including those through the spectacular SOAR in Seattle and awesome Catalyst Miami in Florida.

Just like the Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre, both of these organizations include an emphasis on youth engagement within their coalitions, and many other powerful strategies too. That’s the reason why they matter: Despite the times, you all are committed to sincerely, realistically, and deeply move youth engagement activities and programs that transform communities into the 21st century, despite the trends and counter to the critics.

Our world needs youth engagement like never before. Let’s see that, and get to work!

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

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