When Given the Freedom…

“The young, free to act on their own initiative, can lead their elders in the direction of the unknown… The children, the young, must ask the questions that we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that the elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers.”

– Margaret Mead, Continuities in Cultural Evolution

In 1964, at the age of 35 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. Thousands of students of color participated in a school walkout in New York City over defacto segregation. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement was started after a huge protest after a police officer arrested a protester.

That same year Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist who was famous in the U.S. for her book called Coming of Age in Samoa, wrote quote above. Mead is popular today because of a more simple quote attributed to her: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I think “The young, free to act…” quote above is one of the most powerful summaries about youth-adult partnerships and intergenerational equity I have found. Enjoy.

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

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

Join the Conversation


  1. I agree with the simplicity of this quote and it sums up what we are trying to achieve in promoting participation of young people in decision making processes. One thing i would like to pursue here is the way in which we prove that this approach works. How can we prove that it is through participation of young people that an adult group has succeeded. Would they have done the same without the involvement of the young people anyway?
    I have difficulty arguing for young people’s involvement sometimes and it is difficult to evidence impact of successful participation by young people.
    Mick Conroy (Cardiff,Wales,UK)

  2. Great point Mick. It seems like the only major studies in the US have been qualitative reviews that studied the perspectives of adults, and how they were impacted through youth participation. But I think more important measurable factors for adults might include skills acquisition, personal efficacy, and ethical development. Evidence is growing, but you are right – it is not fully “there” yet.

    Useful links:
    * http://www.youthengagementandvoice.org/index.cfm?menuCat=2
    * http://cals-cf.calsnet.arizona.edu/fcs/content.cfm?content=taking_active_role

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *