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!

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