The insight of lived experience coupled with the purity of youth perspective is hard to argue with. The tragic events in Parkland, FL have left an indelible mark - as a nation, we have all been impacted by this school shooting. Unfortunately, this is not the first of its kind. It is possible, however, that it could be the last. The response has changed significantly, particularly because those directly impacted, the students themselves, have turned adversity into powerful advocacy. Young people across our nation are standing up and stepping out on issues that matter to them deeply – issues that they have lived. They are not necessarily doing this because they want to, but because they HAVE too.
The young advocates I work with have all been impacted by our child welfare system and our public response to youth homelessness. Despite all they have been through, they still believe in the promise of our democracy as a verb, as something to actively work on. They believe the objective of our shared civic life is to continually improve, grow and become better than we were the day before. Unfortunately, they also understand that somewhere along the way “we the people” began to expect less. They’ve seen the cruelty of the world and the seeming lack of public will to do anything to change it. And yet, they are still working passionately to change the future for those that will come after them.
Recently, I was talking with one of our Network Representatives about the origin of the adage, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” There is an idealism that gets lost in the transition to adulthood. As we age, our focus tends to shift from society to the self – mortgages, careers, and children all have that effect. That is why it is imperative that we look to our young people to steer us towards continuous improvement.
It is beyond time for “us”, the adults, to stop the bickering, blaming, and finger pointing. We need to open our eyes, close our mouths, and listen - really listen - to what our children and young people are saying. They are telling us that we are not living up to our ideals. Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” By this measure we have lost our way. I look at the countless young people who are without stable housing. And those that are placed in detention facilities without having committed a crime. And those that feel unsafe in their schools.
It has been said that most revolutions are led by the young. It is well past time for the narrative arc to bend from victimhood towards powerful leadership in the child welfare system, much like the example set by the incredible young people from Parkland. Much like the work done by our youth advocates who have experienced so much adversity and still believe the future can be better. The work I’m privileged to do in partnership with our youth advocates gives me hope. There is nothing so wrong with us that the best of us cannot fix, especially when we seek inspiration and partnership from our young people.