“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
Since the senseless shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many politicians, lawmakers, adults, and even parents have been surprised by the purpose, eloquence, unity, and leadership of the young people who have come together to create and propel forward the #NeverAgain movement.
Young people are not.
Rather than the apathy and indifference many in power have attributed to today’s young people, we see a rise in youth activism.
We know we must be active participants in our communities, and we know it is our duty to engage in our democracy by staying informed, voting when old enough, and seeking elected office ourselves when eligible.
However, we also know we need support, honest dialogue, and active engagement from the adults around us.
The qualities of youth described by Robert Kennedy surpass time and age. We need young people engaged in making our communities safer and stronger, and we need adults who value and support the youth voice for its unique perspective and willingness to embrace change. On issues of systemic inequities, school safety, and mental illness, young people offer a valuable authentic voice, and adults need to truly listen.
Throughout the U.S. civil rights movement, the LGBTQ movement, the labor, environmental justice, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements, young people have leveraged their knowledge, passion, and commitment to become game-changers. The Dreamers, Students Against Sexual Assault, Occupy Wall Street, and the Black Lives Matter movements have all been supported by significant youth involvement, and today’s youth leverage social networks to create online campaigns in order to crowdsource and disseminate information.
Just days after the Parkland shootings, youth organized a national school walkout, traveled to the Florida state capital, and planned a nationwide march. Over the past weeks, the students in Florida have proven their mettle and offered real solutions to gun violence in schools.
However, in order for our efforts to bring about sustained change, we need to be recognized as essential to the debate on the prevention of gun violence and other issues, and accepted as strong enough to vigorously discuss the merits of our arguments with adult policy and decision makers.
Young people are a key piece of the puzzle, but the real solution to school gun violence rests in our ability to work jointly with all stakeholders, including elected representatives, school officials, parents, students, victims, friends, families, and law makers.
As a member of Plan International USA’s Youth Advisory Board, I have been fortunate to work in an environment where real solutions were achieved because of such collaboration, and I work alongside young people and adult policy makers/decision-makers to empower youth worldwide.
As an international development organization that serves children, families, and communities in more than 70 countries, Plan’s mission would ring hollow without the input and work of its Youth Advisory Boards. In fact, Plan has made lasting, positive impact on worldwide education, sanitation, gender equity, and child safety because it actively listens to young people, engages them in solutions, and empowers them to make the changes they need and desire. Youth voices have always been there, and we will continue to speak up at Plan. This same model can work for solving the scourge of gun violence in our schools, but it will take a powerful commitment from young people and adults.
Now is a time for action and collaboration. The young people of the #NeverAgain movement are inspiring and give us hope for real change concerning gun violence in our schools. As young people, we need to continue to engage in our democracy and pledge our energy and passion to those causes that will shape our future.
We must help perfect our union in spite of our differences. Yet, equally important to our success are our adult allies who value those timeless qualities of youth that the world needs now more than ever.